I would

If I could do it all again I would; I mean without the comedowns or crash or waking up stinking of bleach and cigarette ash, but if I could do it all again I would. I’d pull the lever on the slot machine and we’d always hit a win, I’d fuck you senseless bruised and blind and never have to think about the ticking clock in the waiting room and all the pills we ever swallowed

would be good.

I would, if I could do it all again I’d still stumble tripping from cubicle 3 we’d still have all the laughs I’m sure we had and good times I’m told we had and none of us none of this would ever go bad, we’d dance and forget we get old, we get sad. I’d still let ourselves lose ourselves in weekends and mornings and closed-curtain dawns, and one shot, two shot, three shot, floor. I’d still talk shit and you’d still nod and the bass would still beat our words out but I’d see you laughing and laugh, and we’d dance and I’d forget I was sad.

If I could do it all again I would all the freezing queues and skanky lines and dirty looks from beautiful boys, googly eyes and laughs about that time in A&E, and that other time

in A&E.

And we’d never have been to A&E. If I could do it all again I would. Pull the lever and always win and always mean my manic grin, we’d all trip and none of us fall and we’d fuck and sweat and all would be like it was if I could do it all over again, I would, if I could.

Advertisements

Unsound

Out of work
divorced
usually pissed,
he aimed low in life
and missed

Roger McGough, ‘Missed’

Woke up full of cold and with depression still fogging up my mind. Sweaty, twisted night’s sleep, although pleasant dreams – they have been, recently, strangely. Mum and Dad on their way to NZ, me alone in the house I grew up in. Feeling like I’ve gone backwards, and stopped.

I looked up philosophy books on Amazon, not sure why, put a few on the wishlist. And so fell back into Leeds and I guess part of the person I was in Leeds.

I was a lot thinner, then. Well, a bit thinner.

Continue reading

Eyes begin to linger

Like I say, I’m maybe a teensy bit hypo at the moment. While that can be fun and dances, it can also make me a petulant cock. So while most gay men would skip eagerly to any event named ‘Naked Boys Reading‘, the grumpy bouncer on the door led to a grumpy me entering the venue.

Grumpy me doesn’t like crowds, grumpy me doesn’t really like people. Grumpy me is more than a little self-entitled and sulky and there were too many people, the music was too loud, the bar was too crammed and, and just ugh. Ugh. Why did I bother?

Fortunately I have a decent amount of self awareness these days and knew grumpy me was just grumpy because of a mild fog of hypomania. I decided to stay. Besides, I’d paid seven quid and I’m skint, may as well get my money’s worth.

Grumpy guy. Beards and pretention in Shoreditch, how fucking gay can you get; naked boys reading.


 

I’d actually been really looking forward to it. The fact I’m leaving London soon has given me the impetus to do those things I’d always meant to do, and going to this was one of those things. I’d put a few call outs on twitter and Facebook to see if anyone fancied coming, everyone was busy, no one took the bait. Fuck it, I thought. I’m going anyway. He bad can a night called Naked Boys Reading be? I could only fail to be pleased if they were reading the phone book. Or had taken an imaginative interpretation of the word ‘naked’. Everyone’s naked under their clothes after all but I think we can all agree that’s cheating.

Don’t worry, it was awesome.

The self confessed crap drag queen dragged me out of my funk. She was helped by the crowd, who came across as warm and playful. I soon found myself grinning, then laughing, and cheering along.

The guys who came on were all shapes and sizes. Being prepared to stand naked in front of a load of gay guys, a notoriously judgy demographic, takes a tonne of guts. To stand starkers for an extended period, reading literature is… well, let’s not bother with delicacies; it’s gloriously batty. The concept alone is laughably absurd. The knowledge that gay men (and a few women) would horde to such an event laughably predictable. That anyone would turn up to get their kit off and read is a glorious, wonderful expression of the heights of cultured absurdity to which gay society is reaching. It’s right up there with foxes wearing lanyards.

Of course a guy comes on waving his wang around and you gawp at the wang (well, I do). Then you examine the body, everything you’re not meant to do in the changing rooms. But changing rooms are always filled with the young and the beautiful. Fuck the young and the beautiful.

Your eyes keep flicking to the face, obviously; everyone’s addicted to watching faces, and when we can gawp we gawp. We gawped, classy with affected disinterest and closed lips, but we gawped. Still, stories drag you in. There’s nothing people love more than stories. Eyes begin to linger, enchanted, on the face, on the eyes, telling the story. Stories ranging from dark to comic, to sexual (obviously). Eyes begin to linger on the stories.

So the nakedness fell away, became irrelevant. Yeah, we were at naked boys reading so we could gawp respectfully, warmly, at naked boys. I mean why not? But eventually the nakedness became a side show, an addition to the act. Naked Boys Reading became readings by naked boys. Everyone laughed, everyone cheered, everyone clapped and listened and smiled. It was great. A great reminder we’re all naked under our clothes.


 

Yes, obviously I’m going to do a reading at some point.

Foxes with lanyards

Furries everywhere.

Isn’t it brilliant?! Birmingham – came into a bar for lunch and to charge my phone, stumbled on a furry meetup. Fucking brilliant. Fluffy tails and yelps, bouncing blue wolves and a moose twerking by my table. She holds a large inflatable banana, waves it. I giggle and grin, scribble in my notebook, sip cheap lager. Happy. Possibly a little bit hypo. But I hope not, I hope this is me, at last.

Having a grand old time; woke up with only a faint fog of a hangover; I like hotels (‘liminal spaces, Phil; you like liminal spaces!’), but I’m in a Travelodge, so not so much. Still. Lush beds, good sleep. Came down for the BeyondPositive Birthday Bash, beers and queers and the occasional cheeky fag. Exciting accessories. We ended up in Eden and I ended up sleepy, bad karaoke and me thinking I’m maybe a touch too old for all this. Kissed my goodbyes and returned to the hotel, narrowly avoided Boltz.

(I couldn’t find Boltz)

Wake early because I always do, check out and walk to the library; Birmingham’s new library all light and space, glorious. Musty old books and a kids’ space with a scrap heap spaceship. Roof gardens, apple trees.

Birmingham Library

Sometimes, wandering through Cambridge, I’ve heard a harp played, delicate. Sandstone and subdued, harps sound bright in the staid atmosphere. But on the roof of the library I hear a trumpet riffing out, bouncing up from below. Drizzle mizzling, wet concrete, but the trumpet doesn’t care about that. Bold as brass.

The canals! Canal boats, a river bus. Old pubs and funny graffiti. Geese.

The Bullring is bright and loud and bustling busy, scent of perfumes layered with aftershaves drift by, gaggles. Kids, pushchairs. Posters smiling, telling me my life isn’t complete, and wouldn’t it be great if it was? No, no it wouldn’t. Unbroken symmetries are boring.

Church.

Just outside the Bullring, church. It doesn’t take long for the city to drop away, and it doesn’t take long for me to breathe a bit deeper. Atheist as I am, there’s more than a little peace and fragility in religion. Light through church window

I light a candle, I usually do, when in a church. Don’t say a prayer but I do remember, and it’s good to sometimes shine a small light, light a small flame. There’s the smell of wax, that shimmering heat you get in gathered candlelight. A draught from the door catches the flames, tilts them. I put out my hand, cup my memory. Protect it from the wind for a little while.

Stone! Cool stone, I’ve always loved the touch of cool stone and I place my palm against a column. Sometimes, in my family, we hug trees. Trees are good to hug but stone is good to touch. Old, silent. Cool.

I got a leather jacket! Been meaning to get one for years, got a second hand one in the rag market for 25 quid. It’s scratty and doesn’t quite fit me and I think it probably sums me up quite well, right now.

The rag market is a different kind of bustle, narrow walkways crammed with the slow and shuffling. Second hand electrics, DVDs (‘Clint Eastwood £2!’), cheap incense and Julie’s Stall (‘Mens Socks! Ladies Pants! Top Brands!’). Love it. Endless rolls of fabrics, wall hangings, rugs; second hand jeans for sale, terrible figurines for sale. I grab some chips and walk down to gay street; a homing habit but also – I need to charge my phone.

And the place is full of furries! I love it, I fucking love it. Fluffy tails and antlers, yips and yelps. People dragging suitcases, foxes with lanyards.

Maybe I’m hypo but you know maybe I’m not. I’m not dancing in the street and I’m not belting out tunes. I’m just loving the world; I’m loving the canal boats and cheap pants and the smell of vinegar on hot chips. I’m loving the touch of cool stone, the smell of gathered candlelight. I’m loving that I live in a world which finds space for foxes with lanyards.

Fuck em

The knuckle of the little finger of my right hand is a bit mangled. Only a tiny bit, mind. In a drunken 21st birthday accident I ended up smashing it to smithereens, ended up in hospital, operation, physio. There’s a funny story there that I’m sure I’ll tell you sometime.

It looks a bit wonky, but you’ve got to know to look, before you see. And I can’t straighten it out properly, so it remains slightly crooked no matter how flat my palm is. There’s probably a metaphor there that I’m sure I’ll use sometime.

It was the first time I broke. The first knock I got that was permanently left I my body, never going to quite heal. A reminder of a daft, drunken night out, of my 21st birthday in Queens Court. A daft story to tell when someone notices, asks what happened.


I like trains. I like hotels and I like trains, places where I’m suspended over and outside my life, away from cares. I’ve never had the kind of job that follows you on holiday and Christ knows I never want one; my worries don’t send me emails. In between the places life happens, I can forget and just enjoy. Or just sleep, while the train speeds along. Suspended animation.

So I was trying to sleep. I was doing a fair job, too. The train wasn’t crowded, I’m a big guy but I could stretch out, over the seats. Curl up and brush up against sleep. I’m skint so I’d got a cheap train from Birmingham to London, and cheap trains take forever. Stop at every stop. It was another reason for me to want to drift, and I was drifting OK until a group of beery lads came on.

I kept my eyes closed and tried to ignore them. They were loud and boorish at first but then eased off a bit, apart from one guy who was a chatter. Drunken chatter, an older guy by the gruff of his voice, nattering to one of the other passengers. Christ, I’m thinking, just shut up and let me be, just shut up and let him be, it’s obvious he doesn’t want to talk. Kept my eyes closed, tried to ignore him.

“So what language you speakin’, then?”

“Polish”

“Ah, Polish. Tell me a word in Polish. What’s Polish for ‘window’?”

So the guy tells him the polish for window, whatever that was, and there’s a chuckle, chatty guy repeats the word, mangling it, ‘see boys, I can speak Polish!’

And his mates laugh, and the Polish guy laughs, and Chatty’s mates tell him to hush, the guy’s on the phone.

He doesn’t hush. He’s pissed, after all. I keep my eyes closed, thinking just shut the fuck up, shut he fuck up and leave him alone, I’m trying to sleep.

“Now when my dad was in the war…” Chatty says, starts rambling on about his dad, some Polish guy, Jesus I don’t care, no one cares, the Polish guy doesn’t care, he just wants to talk in the phone to his mate.

“…but he always spoke English, you see? So what I’m thinking is, why don’t people speak English, we’re in England”

Polish guy mumbles.

“So why you speaking Polish then? Why aren’t you speaking English?”

“My friend… He doesn’t speak English”

“What, and he’s in Poland, is he? Funny kind of phone, I can never get a reception, but you’ve got a reception to Poland! Wish I had your phone”

Chatty’s mates tell him to quiet down.

“But what’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with speaking English in England? It’s our country after all, I just think you should speak English in England…”

On and on and on, I’m thinking shut the fuck up, just shut the fuck up; the Polish guy mumbling, whispering into his phone.

“I just think it’s rude! I can’t stand it, people…”

“Will you SHUT THE FUCK UP?!”

I’m on my feet, “just SHUT THE FUCK UP and leave him alone? It’s fuck all to do with you, I think it’s great people speak different languages, it’s a free bloody country”

He glares, stands up, how fucking dare I speak to him like that, show such a lack of respect?!

“I’m not going to respect a bloody racist!”

“How dare you?! Racist, me? I’m Irish!”

“So, so fucking what?!”

“I just want to talk to my friend, it’s a free country”, says Polish guy.

“And why can’t you do it in English?! This is England!”

“Because it’s nice to speak your native language! Because sometimes people get homesick! Because his mate doesn’t fucking speak English!”

“How dare you speak to me that way?!”

He walks to the back of the carriage. “Come here! I want to have a nice quiet chat with you back here!”

I have no fucking clue what’s going on now. Other passengers have turned to look, slack jawed at me, I’ve broken the British rule of ignoring this kind of thing. Don’t make a fuss. But I’ve started now. How could I not?

One of his mates comes up, starts whispering in my ear, and it becomes obvious that chatty isn’t the dangerous one, it’s this one, scarred face and thinning hair, beer on his breath. “It’s not him you need to be worried about, it’s me”.

Again I look around the carriage. No one’s looking now. Keeping their eyes closed and trying to ignore us. But I don’t, really, care. They’re picking on me now, not the Polish guy. Weird. I never thought of myself as brave. I don’t think I am. I just know what kind of a world I want to live in, even if it always falls short.

He looks at me, into me. Silent.

“Well what?” I ask. “What can you do, what are you going to do?”

“I could out a fist through your face”

I shrug. “So the police would be called and you’d be arrested”

“Do I look Ike I give a fuck about that? I’ve just done fifteen years inside, do I look like I give a fuck about the police?!”

He’s not lying. And… I’m not scared. What the fuck can he do?

“So? So what do you want to do, then? What am I meant to do?”

“Get off at the next stop and have it out on the platform.”

I shrug, baffled. Why the fuck would I do that? Apart from anything else I’m not sure if my ticket would be valid on the following service. I’m not going to do that.

Chatty comes back up, breaks us up. Pulls Ex-Con back. Puts out his hand too me and says, it’s OK, back off. I out my hand in his and he pulls it back, squeezes. Tight. Fucking tight. “I could break your fucking wrists if I wanted”. Keeps squeezing, tight.

The train stops. They get off. The third guy, quiet, eyes me as he walks past. “You got very lucky”, he says.

Polish guy gets off at the same stop. I look at my phone, not enough battery left to make a call. I hope he’s OK. I shake a bit. And hour ’til Euston. Fuck em, I’m thinking. I don’t wanna like in their world. I’ll fucking fight to make sure I don’t live in their world.

Fuck em.

Fuck em all.


 

It’s really easy to hide, when you’re white. When you’re white and english. It’s really easy to keep your eyes closed and try to ignore them.

I’d like to say it was general disgust with them that made me speak out. I’d like to say I was the hero standing up for basic fucking human decency. And it was spinning in my head, as I lay there listening. Why am I not saying anything? Why is no one saying anything? Shouldn’t you stand up to bullies? And what does it say about me, about us, if we don’t? But I don’t know if that alone would have made me finally lose it.

I’d like to say I would’ve stood up to them even if I had known they were a gang, had I known it could turn violent, had I known it wasn’t just one drunken racist and actually a trio of violent, drunk fascists. Probably I wouldn’t. Probably I would’ve been scared, and that’s how they keep everyone quiet. By scaring them. So maybe had I known I would’ve held back and kept quiet and looked after number one. But maybe I would’ve still stood up.

Maybe I would’ve lost it no matter what. Because I lay there listening to this cretinous bilge, trying to shut him out and wishing he’d shut up and hearing this poor guy mumble uncomfortably, and I remembered my niece, my pequeña estrella, sat in my arms.

“It’s all in Spanish”, she says.

And I say, “That’s OK”.

And I knew what kind of world I wanted to live in.


So what could he have done? He could have killed me, at most. That’d be bad, very bad, but sugar I’ve tried to kill myself twice so that’s not really much of a threat any more.

He could have smashed my face in. Maybe messed me up bad, broken nose shattered teeth broken ribs broken wrists, blinded. But I know what world I want to live in. And he could have left scars and wounds and marks all over my body, badly healed arms and a skull full of stitches. And people would ask me how I got them. And I’d tell them.

And I’d be fucking proud.


 

“The Ukip leader told how he went on a commuter train journey recently through south east London and did not hear anyone speaking English, leaving him feeling “awkward” and “uncomfortable”.

He said: “So the answer is, I don’t feel very comfortable in that situation and I don’t think the majority of British people do”

The Telegraph, quoting Ukip leader Niger Farage

How bad can it actually get

Doncaster has had a fair few gay bars in its time. There was, originally, the Vine (now demolished), which was brilliantly old school with a normal-pub front room and a back room adorned with porn and rainbows, windows blackened. I went in there once, early 20’s drunk, and sat at the bar drinking pints while people played darts. Fantastic.

There was the Prince of Wales, which had a brief, violent life. I don’t think I ever saw the place without boarded up windows. Remember the headline in the Star in 2000 – ANGER AT NEW GAY BAR.

Ah, the good old days.

Most recently, the naively-named Crystals. By now it will have closed down. Crystals used to fascinate me, and I don’t think it was me being a wanker metropolitan gay. The place was big – I remember it from it’s pre-gay days, a bleary eyed 17 year old following his girlfriend to an awful ‘Battle of the Bands’ thing, featuring loppy haired 16 year olds. It had a huge bar area, raised dancefloor, outside yard. And I don’t know if it always seemed empty because is was so big, or if it really was always empty.

I went to the Christmas special there once, two quid entry and free buffet. You know those buffets that are all cheap food and cheap carbs and sugar and fatty reformed warm meats?

It was far worse than that.

Anyway. I used go out of habit, not because it was so good, but because it was so shite. I mean it was only twice a year or so, not counting Pride – I wasn’t trekking up from London just to sample the Donny nightlife. But every time I went, I thought ‘this is awful, this is the pits. It can’t possibly get any worse than this’.

And so every time I returned to Doncaster, I’d go, thinking it had to at least be better than last time.

It never was. It was always worse. And I became fascinated. Entranced. Sat on my own, drinking bad lager and smelling the stale carpet, staring into the middle distance. How bad can it actually get?


 

I used to hate my nose. It’s effete, slipping up at the tip like a stereotyped French aristocrat, permanently upturned to the world. Now, however, I still hate my nose, but I also hate my hips and this fat on my belly and the horrible moobs than droop unappetisingly from my chest and I know you all say you can’t see it but it’s there. I hate my arse and the fact my biceps are shrinking from lack of gym and the dry skin on my cheeks. Flab padding out my frame, oozing into a muffin top. My body saggy, undesired and undesirable. Mottled, too skinny, too fat.

Being gay has taught me a lot. And one of the things it’s taught me is that my body is criminally undesirable. It’s no big deal, and objectively the vapidity of it all is funny; watching sometimes from the sidelines, at the boys prettier than you who no doubt still think they’re ugly, knowing that no matter how thin, how big, how ripped you get, you’ll never, never be happy. And I guess in a way, it’s all cool. All in the same boat, after all, me and you against the world.

Anyway.

Every now and then something erupts on the London scene which demonstrates not only how disgustingly / amazingly shallow it is, but also that there are unknown depths of shittery which your feeble mind was incapable of imagining until it burst forth, greasy and warm.

A few years back this came in the form of FitLadz, a scally-themed cruise night which advertised they’d be turning away ‘munters’. Leaving aside the fact that most people don’t go in for the dress code at these places and that those who do don trakkies and  caps tend to be well-to-do architects called Sebastian, saying you’re gonna turn away ugly people is pretty ugly.

Whether it was a marketing ploy or not, feather boas were ruffled and FitLadz soon backed down, removing the wording from the ads.

Today, word on the grapevine reaches me of a night to be held at the Hoist, one of London’s full time gay fetish clubs. It’s a ‘private party’ but it is being hosted by the club, so I feel somewhat (somewhat) justified in levelling a bit of invective their way; entry to the party isn’t determined by who you know, but by how you look.

Seriously. You send them a photo with a few stats and they determine if you’re eligible.

Now as I say, this is a private do but the Hoist, while they are known for various kink nights and a variably-enforced dress code, are not especially known for an upstairs function room available for parties or wedding receptions. They’re not even known for providing really, really shit buffets (insert comment about ‘putting on a good spread’ here). So there’s clearly more involvement than just a bored receptionist taking down a date in the back office.

Of course, this speaks to the narcissism of the gay scene, the impossible drive for impossible perfection, the desire for impossible bodies. I could write on and on and on about the way this environment impacts us – us as gay men, in our own lives, our own bodies and minds, far away from the scripted ideals. But that wasn’t what first struck me about this – that’s all old hat.

What first struck me was, ‘this is amazing!’. Just when you think the body fascism of the scene has found its nadir, another sink hole opens up and you find yourself tumbling helplessly into it, the only thing making it bearable the knowledge that everyone finds it as despicable as you. Except for the people who would go to a night like this.

Think about it: What kind of person would want to go to a night filled with the kind of people who would want to go to to a night like this?!

It’s fascinating. You have to admire them, and it really can’t be long until some corporate club comes up with the same wheeze. They probably have, somewhere outside the UK. It’s amazing, watching, chewing your protein bar and gazing down Compton Street.

How bad can it actually get?



 

Aside

I’d laugh all the way to the Eagle if I found out this venture was a flop for the Hoist, but the same can’t be said for Crystals. For all that it was abysmal, I would have given my left eye for a town centre gay pub when I was growing up alone in that town. I hear there’s possibly another one opening up further up the road, or a pub owned by a couple of gay guys which I suspect will at least put on a night. I really wish them the best of luck. It’s easy to mock from the bright lights of the big cities, but gay teenagers growing up in small towns deserve to know they’re not alone.