Friday 31 March 2023

My cold, wordless exchange with Lily Savage (Paul O'Grady R.I.P.)


It will have been early 1988 when the campaign was at its height to prevent an obnoxious Bill becoming law, which was to make it a criminal offence for a local authority (read 'teachers') to promote homosexuality. Our side's 'anti' campaign itself was unsuccessful as the then Mrs Thatcher's government managed to get her Bill through Parliament in the Summer of that year where it remained for a further 17 years until Tony Blair's Labour government got it rescinded without too much trouble. In fact throughout that law's active life not one single prosecution under it had been made, not helped by no one agreeing on exactly what 'promotion of....' actually meant. (All this, of course, was while AIDS was ravaging the country, knocking gay men over like skittles - a gleeful gift to the gay-hating bigots). But much of the energy of our side's anti-law campaign was on the lines of 'if this gets through, what comes next?' - the answer to which, if not worded as the British law was, can depressingly be seen happening right now in the U.S.A. 

As part of the 'anti' campaign there were a number of events in support of that side, including theatrical charity dos. In London there were two such which I attended, possibly the biggest one being in one of that city's largest West End theatres, the 1,200 seater Piccadilly theatre, with a large number of stars, including internationals, making a brief 5-minute appearance to make their support known. I can't list all the names now, the long tally-call being quite breath-taking, though I'll still have the programme somewhere - but I do remember Dame Edna Everidge, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Bates, Alan Bennett, Harold Pinter (and, I think, Tom Stoppard), Simon Rattle with his then wife, the cast of 'EastEnders' and 'Les Mis', Gary Oldman and Sheila Hancock did the seduction scene from Joe Orton's 'Entertaining Mr Sloane'.....and, making their very first live performance ever, the Pet Shop Boys who performed, highly appropriately, 'It's a Sin' (and, I think, 'Always on My Mind') Lily Savage, who was yet to become a national figure though by then very well known on the gay scene. I'd seen her before and, frankly, hadn't cared for her, she striking me as relentlessly bitter and humourless, unless you thought that hurling 'f' and 'c' words with no wit at various celebrities and politicians, was side-splittingly funny which some, indeed, did. I thought his material was all too shallow. Anyway, he did his predictable routine leaving me duly unimpressed. Then after this show I had booked to go straight to another similar event at one of London smaller theatres, half the size of the Piccadilly, with another cast list of more big names but mainly those from the gay circuits. And once again Lily Savage was on that programme too. She came on, same dress as before, and did the very same act which I'd just seen. I was sitting in an end seat on about the third row from the stage, quite conspicuously placed as it was jutting out into a side aisle. In the middle of her piece she suddenly stopped and looked directly at me, probably noticing because I was sitting there, rigid, unsmiling and rather bored despite her best efforts - and it was a looooong, silent, icy, 'if-looks-could-kill' glare. The audience hushed, and I could sense them starting to look for what had caught her attention though I didn't dare to glance around myself. I could have put an end to the dreadful moment there and then by just giving a smile and a thumbs-up, allowing her a sense of relief, but I was frozen into immobility, face and all. Then, after what seemed an eternity, with blood rushing to my cheeks, she looked away. I was certain she must say something, but she didn't. She just carried on with her venomous spiel. She'd have forgotten the moment with me two minutes later, and compared with the vicious heckling she must have got in her early career up to then, it would have been nothing. Yet here am I, over 30 years later, still recalling and cringeing at the memory of that moment of 'nothingness'!

By the time Paul O'Grady died unexpectedly in his sleep the day before yesterday at the age of just 67 (nine years younger than I am now. Eek!) he'd been accorded the now rather over-used accolade of 'national treasure' which is probably fair. He'd ditched the Lily Savage persona for good about 15 years ago and has been appearing on national television since the mid-90s, though in latter years only as his true self, a warm, genial host - a side of him with qualities which Lily Savage's character was devoid and I hadn't been aware of. He was a popular chat-show host, as well as for game shows, though he did also do the occasional theatre appearances, such as the child-catcher in 'Chitty' at the London Palladium - and he was when he died, appearing in Edinburgh as Miss Hannigan on a national tour production of 'Annie', which would actually next week have been in Southampton, just 50 miles along the south coast from where I am. 

Paul became particularly well-known for his concern for animals - for which he gets a huge plus from me! - and, in particular, for rescued dogs, the subject of a popular regular TV programme. He leaves behind a husband (rather good-looking, I must say) as well as a daughter from a previous marriage. 

Everyone's parting is sad, and it seems my briefest of briefs 'interaction' with him, if one can even call it that, did not do justice to the man. 

R.I.P., Sir!

Monday 27 March 2023

The 'N - word' before it became the ultimate unmentionable.


The idea of using this subject for a post comes about through very recent news that some of Agatha Christie's novels (as well as some of Roald Dahl's) are being altered so as to have terms which are now considered to be 'racially insensitive' either altered or completely removed for future published editions. I am not going to argue here whether such changes are or aren't justified.

Those of my generation and older will recall the time when this word was in almost everyday use by many, including friends and even relatives, with hardly an eyebrow raised in disapproving reaction. It must have been in the 1970s when, at least in England, it became 'dubious' until, following the example of the U.S.A., it became (probably in the 1980s) unacceptable virtually everywhere, especially in a social context - though it was , and I believe still is, used by (racist) comedians in the relative seclusion of private clubs. I recall it being used on TV 'comedy' shows still well into the 70s - this was a time when one of the most popular shows here was the weekly 'Black and White Minstrel Show', all the male singers and dancers having blacked-up faces, all the females without the black make-up but in alluring, revealing dresses as also their dancers, some in almost bikini-like costumes so as to give show to much exposed, exclusively white, female flesh which, it was assumed, that audiences liked to see.  

When my family first got a television, around 1958 - before colour of course - one of the very first films we watched together was the Agatha Christie thriller advertised above - which, with its unexpected, breath-taking resolution, made a deep and highly favourable impression on me. Christie herself had used the 'N-word' when transferring her novel, originally called 'Ten Little Indians', into a stage play. 'Ten Little Soldiers' had also briefly been employed. Incidentally, when I saw the play on stage about 30 years ago (though knowing the big 'reveal' of the plot rather blunts the experience) even 'Indians' had become 'Travellers' - which itself, with its uncloaked suggestion of gypsies, has now also become a clear no-no.  And the play's title, like the 1974 re-make film - and with, indeed, Christie's own approval which she had also herself previously used - had by then become the entirely innocuous 'And Then There Were None'. 

I hadn't heard of Lenny Bruce when I saw the 1974 Dustin Hoffman / Bob Fosse film, which I liked a lot - and moved me to find out more about the man. (Oh, how I'd liked to have seen him reacting, assuming his political and social stances had remained unchanged, to our present Trump-world!) In the film 'Lenny' he masterfully illustrates how the sting can be drawn from the word 'nigger' by using it regularly and non-judgmentally - a lesson which is, arguably, still valid today. However, I think there's not enough recognition that within the 'family' of non-white people, the word can be used as a term of friendliness or even affection - as much as the word 'queer' can, and is also used in a non-pejorative sense between gay, (usually) men. But that does not give authority to those outside those particular worlds to use the words as a put-down, something which is obviously not so when used by one member of such set towards another, as like an informal form of address. There is no sense here of one individual claiming a superiority over another in these cases. 

I began primary school in 1952. In my family I have always been the darkest one - as well as the tallest, though that is 'only' 6 feet. Being born in India (of mainly European 'stock') was enough to additionally mark me out as someone 'different'. Some years back my younger brother had one of those ancestry tests done, which showed, unsurprisingly to us, a significant Iberian strain - my father claimed to be half-Portuguese, so hence is my surname, slightly altered from its original - as well as some Scandinavian - my paternal grandfather's 'other half' being Danish. But there was also some [I think 18%] Asian, which may have come from my mother's side, though she, as English, wasn't aware of - or didn't want to say? -  where that originated from. At primary school, and it's hardly credible now, among 600 infant and junior pupils, I was the sole one who was most visibly not white, moreso than any of my three brothers. So I was an obvious target for the 'n' word, though, must say, not frequently, just now and again, and more often than not, abbreviated to 'nig' - and by boys (it was always only boys) from classes other than my own who didn't know me. Of course, being called 'nig' or the full word hurt, as it was meant to, though it didn't obsess me unduly. I just thought of it as being part of the world. As far as I know, my brothers had not suffered the same indignities that I did, though their complexions were a shade, or even two, lighter than mine was. When I started grammar school at 11, I found once again that I was the darkest out of another 600 boys (a boys-only school), that is until a young guy with coal-black skin joined some years later, and who, I noted, after riding out silently all the laughing and ribbing behind his back - sometimes even to his face - he quickly became hugely popular, gaining a retinue of devoted fans who followed him around and chatting with him at recreation time, something I'd never experienced myself. I felt so happy for him, though wasn't brave enough to tell him so.

Anyway, going back to 'Ten Little Niggers', at my first school, there was an annual event where pupils from all years were chosen by their teachers to take part in a series of performances before the whole school in the assembly hall. It was a Roman Catholic school whose headmistress was a nun, as also was her deputy/final-year teacher. All the other teachers were lay women and two men, all also R.C. of course. This particular year when I'd have been 7 or 8, the year above me had been given the task to act-out the then relatively well-known children's song 'Ten Little Niggers' (from which Christie got her book title, though which is never heard nowadays) on the assembly hall stage, with ten chosen boys given blacked-up faces (shoe polish?) - as well as big curtain-ring sized earrings(!) plus some garishly coloured scarf. Then they'd be made to pop up to being visible one by one from behind a low lateral screen to illustrate the song's story, with the respective, varied (humorous) demises - I remember one being caught by a shark, another being poisoned with a cake - all while the whole school, including teachers and nuns, along with a couple of priests as guests from the adjoining church, singing along merrily and heartily the chorus line of - "One little, Two little, Three little, Four little, Five little NIGGER boys" the chorus being repeated as each boy 'died' thus reducing the number 'survivors' - so at least TEN times altogether!.......all the while leaving me inwardly squirming as I watched the wretched, demeaning spectacle from a tightly-packed bench. I don't remember if I made some show of pretending to sing along.

Ah, such were the times! Better now? Well maybe - or.....?


Monday 13 March 2023

Annual Doggie Extravaganza - Crufts Best in Show 2023

The winner - and 'Best in Show' is.........ORCA!

 And runner-up or  'Reserve Best in Show' is........Blondie

Finishing last night, I watch this event every year as religiously as I do the 'Eurovision Song Contest' and can't think why I've not till now done a blog on it, especially considering there are so many avid dog-lovers in blogland, several of whom I'm delighted to be following. 

Crufts, held every year in Birmingham, claims to be the world's best dog show. Whether it is or not it's certainly the biggest, with multiple thousands of entries from all over the globe, providing four days of quality 'entertainment' in competitions, obstacle courses, tricks, skills, obeying commands, grooming etc.......all of course, presided over by expert veterinary supervisors.

I can't claim to be particularly knowledgeable about dogs (nor cats, for that matter) other than liking them hugely, their honest, uncomplicated emotional responses being the main source of their endearment for me. All on the surface, nothing hidden. But I know very little regarding dog breeds (so many of them, and such variety!) and the niceties of interpreting their doggie language. 

I've never been a dog-owner myself, except when as part of the family we owned one between my ages of around 10-18 - and though all my members of my family were animal-lovers to varying extents it was I who was foremost and closest to 'Candy'. Now, with three cats to care for and coddle (it was they who chose me to leave their homes for and move in here!) and at my advanced age, acquiring a dog, or even another cat, is really out of the question, sadly.

So here are some misc pics from the last few days:-

Incidentally, I would urge anyone who hasn't seen the Christopher Guest film 'Best in Show' (2000) to take a look. Totally hilarious, with nearly all the humour coming from or directed at the dog-owners rather than the animals. It's one off my all-time favourites and easily one of the funniest films I have ever seen.

Now, to end with, here's last year's champion, and what a fine specimen of the breed he is, you'll agree! And just look at the winning dog he owns too!

Monday 6 March 2023

Mo Salah, Liverpool F.C. footballer - gets ALL my attention.


It's not a sexual thing - I mean he's 46 years younger than I am - but, goodness me, there's nobody at all in today's sports-world who, appearance-wise, comes anywhere near to ticking my boxes so completely, and he's done so ever since appearing on my radar when he started playing for Liverpool six years ago, and has always been one of their most prominent 'star' players and regular goal-scorer  - while also remaining part of Egypt's national team. I know he's been married for 10 years and has two daughters, but even so, when I see his team playing I'm sitting utterly transfixed, awaiting a view of him, any view, to slaver at excitedly (okay, so maybe it is sexual to some extent). But such a beautiful man I haven't seen in many years - the epitome of 'stunning'!

I'm not aware of any gay fan club with him specifically in mind, so maybe it's just me, but I can live with that - though I do hope he doesn't shave off his beard for some time yet.

Drool, drool, droooooooollll!!