Ran into St Pancras, hit the barriers out of breath. Asked the staff if I was too late, ‘just missed it’, they’d said. 30 seconds. Bastards.
So I’m going to be a writer.
This is something decided for me, because I’m both lazy and ill, unwilling to think of anything original and unable to get a proper job. Apparently I’m good at writing, or at least so I’m told by people who follow me on twitter and friends once they’re a few drinks in, and who am I to argue?
So, leaving London. Leaving London, and a chance to get rid of all this junk.
Where did it come from?! I arrived with a rucksack, I’m leaving in a car. Part of that is because I’ve got a desktop computer, but the larger part is… Is what? Some books, although nowhere near as much as I had at one point. Clothes… I’m not even someone who specifically buys clothes, all my jeans (all of them, all three pairs) have holes in the crotch. Sometimes gaping holes. Old t-shirts, old shirts, trousers washed out of shape. I never buy clothes, how the hell did I end up with so many of them?!
Then just… just stuff. A slow cooker. Why do I have a slow cooker?! I’m sure I tried, very hard, not to get a slow cooker. It was definitely up there with sandwich toaster and juicer as Something I Would Never Buy, in the sure and certain knowledge that I would never use it.
It’s under the bed.
Piles of blank CDs and DVDs, because you never know when you might need one, except of course whenever I do need one I can’t find any of the piles so have to go out and buy 100 more, just for that single install disk of Linux I need to use a single time.
I have so, so many Linux install discs. And a CD featuring photos of me in compromising positions taken when I was in my early twenties. You might ask why I don’t simply upload them all to cloud storage but we all know how that story ends.
Mysterious cables. You all know about mysterious cables so I’m just going to leave it at that.
Half used blister packs of antiretrovirals and associated anti-nausea medication. Because as we all know, when you’re HIV negative the one thing you definitely, absolutely must stockpile is antiretroviral medication. It might come in useful one day.
Inflatable boyfriend, a joke secret Santa present, unopened. In my possession since 2007.
And then of course there’s the stuff I actually want to keep, the stuff that’s actually important. Not ‘might come in useful one day’ important and not ‘guilt about throwing stuff away’ important, but actually important.
Paddy, the hand puppet mum made me when I was 5. Mix CDs from when people still did mix CDs. Ticket stubs from the rare gigs I go to, ticket stubs from Peru, wedding invites. Old photographs, old letters. Daft keepsakes from old boyfriends. The stuff that will never, ever come in useful one day but is all so painfully important.
The really important stuff could fit into a shoebox.
Piles of notebooks, on top of notebooks, occupying this hinterland between really important and really should chuck. Some are full of my scribbles, but most… Sometimes you just need to write, you know? And I can never find a bloody notebook because usually the mood takes me when I’m out and haven’t brought a notebook, so I get another notebook. And then don’t take it out with me again.
I stopped taking them out all the time because I’d invariably end up writing phone numbers and shopping lists in them and of course they weren’t meant for that, they were meant for my innermost thoughts and my idle ponderings. I mean that’s daft, who cares about innermost thoughts and idle ponderings? If you want to be remembered in a thousand years time, write a shopping list. On acid-free paper.
I’ve got happier about that as I’ve got older, kind of charmed by it. Now I always take one out with me, find joy in the occasional stain of real life in them; to-do lists which largely enumerate things I failed to do.
Junk. Good junk and bad junk, junk that might come in useful one day but which I’ll never remember I have; junk which is of no use to anyone and which I never look at, and would be heartbroken to lose. So much bloody junk, accreted around me as I live my life.
Like I say, I’m leaving London soon. 200 miles isn’t a long way but it’s a good reason to get rid of the junk. The useful junk, anyway. Not the important, useless junk.
Dad’s diary entry for a certain day in 1981 states plainly, ‘baby born’
So I’m sat in Goddards Pie Shop and I couldn’t be happier.
Drizzle, mizzling outside. Scalding coffee and piles of mash, thick gravy, meat filled pie. £4.50, you can’t go wrong.
I’ve got an MSc I need to get back to; it all seems another world away and another life away; the way long summer evenings seem impossible when you’re in midwinter.
I run out of mood stabilisers tomorrow, my normal GP unavailable until the 16th. I’m seeing any old doctor on an emergency appointment simply to get a script. And I need to talk to someone, talk to someone about the past few weeks; the way I’ve swung from chaos to a kind of fluid stability. Need to talk about what I did. What was done. But I can’t talk to someone new, can’t go over all this again, and that. It’ll have to wait.
I’m sat in Goddards Pie Shop. The place closed down a few years back, I was heartbroken. An institution for over a century. Came here with Amy once, kinda stoned, that nice kinda stoned, cosy and fuzzy. Best pie and mash in the world. Here I am again and I couldn’t be happier.
All this shit, all the shit that happened, explosions in my head; deafening, ringing, thrown to the ground and stunned, life thrown in the air, scattered. I’ve got to sort out uni, I’ve got to sort out drugs. I’ve got to sort out some kind of income and decide if I stay in London with it’s rush and sweet bruising tumble, or return North. To family, to quiet, to space.
But right now I’m in Goddards. Plate clean, mug empty. About to go into the mizzling drizzle. Waterproof jacket and hood.
And I couldn’t be happier.
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.
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?
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.
Dashed out the house to make a half nine appointment at Dean Street and ended up taking the wrong branch of the Northern Line, finding myself at Bank. Schoolboy error, and too late to reroute. They’ll have to take my blood another day.
Walked around for a bit – Christ, I’m useless when hungover. Doddered about, mostly lost, ricocheted inside Liverpool Station for twenty minutes. No, I’ve no idea either. Eventually found a Pret to charge my phone.
Flat white. Bacon roll. Overpriced bacon roll. Organic focaccia bread, seriously, who wants that kind of shit mucking up a bacon roll?
Still. Bacon. Hangover bacon. Yum.
Christ I hate the square mile. I always get lost, turned about, and the place reeks of money, the stench makes me gag, makes me sicker than cheap lager. Give me Walworth Road any day of the week, with its vom streaked paving and bleach stripped alleys. Give me gospel and preachers and good old honest thieves. Keep your pinstripe suits and boutiques, the only way anyone ever got rich was by taking other people’s money.
I escape, eventually, heading out to St Paul’s and past. Religion, religion I can deal with better than I used to, it’s not for me but then neither is CBT; and there’s comfort and beauty, and more than a little love, in religion. Bigotry and greed just shout louder, the way the selfish often do. And atheist as I am, I can’t be sure of anything, the only thing I know is no one gets out of here alive.
Down the Strand; past the alley that houses Retro, stained with old memories. Homing in to Trafalgar Square, by St Martins. That amazing greasy spoon that manages, somehow, still to hang on. Bet they do better bacon rolls than Pret.
Better coffee, too. Got a thing for cheap coffee and cheap chips, cheap food in cheap cafés.
Past Halfway to Heaven. Fuck it, into Halfway to Heaven, hair of the dog. Friendly staff and that shit music the gays like.
No, not that shit music; the other shit music.
The rim of my glass tastes like washing up liquid. I assume it’s washing up liquid anyway, I don’t make a habit of sucking the teat of the Fairy bottle, unless it’s euphemistically. The lager tastes like water, but it’s cheap lager and if it tasted of lager I’d be suspicious. Old queens talking about Viagra and nipple clamps and the lottery. “Don’t go to GAY, it’s rank” they say. A revelation.
Plug my phone in. Write.
Get over the hangover.
You put my feet
back on the ground
Did you know
you brought me home?
You are sweet and you are sound;
You save me
-Zero Seven, ‘Somersault‘
It’s OK, I grew up there, so I’m allowed to say it. Doncaster’s shite, and it smells of pasties and fags. All the bars – all of them – play music too loud, so you’re screaming to make yourself heard. Not that is matters, because no one from Doncaster has anything worth saying.
I went to Doncaster Pride at the weekend (I know, right? Doncaster has a Pride!). The music was too loud and they spunked too soon by having strippers on as the first act. I grabbed a pint with Leo and we sat drinking, petting some guy’s puppies. Bloodhounds.
Walked around the stalls; The police missed a trick by not having any fit coppers doing outreach and the fire brigade was all women, so we didn’t dally. Sipped our pints.
Rainbows. Fucking rainbows! What is it with fucking rainbow tat?! How anyone makes a living like that is beyond me. We sipped our pints. The wind picked up, a chill; rivers of rainbow boas.
“Now, do you have something warm to wear” mum asks; finds a fleece. “Hardly the height of fashion, I know, but it’s only Doncaster!”
I stuff it into my new ‘Head’ rucksack, the one I bought to make me feel sporty and proper and new start new me.
“I know you cope perfectly well in London but while you’re up here I’m afraid you’ve got me to worry about you. Now is your money safe? And what time will you be back?”
“Probably not”, I grin “and late!”, bounce out the door with Leo, make our way.
“Do your best to have a good time!” she jokes. Doncaster’s shite, after all, and we’ve come all the way from London.
Laura runs fast from nowhere, hugs me tight, tight. Twenty year friendship, glowing, ignites. I smile daft.
“Too loud!” she shouts, we retreat inside. I grab another pint.
Leo -> Laura; Laura -> Leo. And the kids. The kids, crawling happy all over us.
Laura has kids! This still amazes me. You get older, without noticing.
Doncaster’s shite, but this space is nice, the new theatre and culture space is nice. It smells of coffee, and today it’s full of fags.
And you can’t help but laugh, playing games with kids, chasing and rolling and being pulled every way around. Spinning with them, them squealing with delight. Old friendship ignites, new flames. Doncaster’s shite, but you know, in some lights…
Time passes. I sip more pints. Walk with Laura, holding hands; I tell her what’s been on my mind recently. She holds me, tight; “Oh, Phil”, and she holds me and it’s warm as autumn light. Her kids, running through the whirling rainbow boas, chocolate smeared cheeks. Music too loud. Doncaster’s shite.
And we’re up from London, Leo and me. London’s great, after all. It smells of city dust and money; London’s great, you know this because all the Londoners say so, on TV and radio. All the buzz all these people all these minds I can feel them racing round, getting ahead, getting along in life. London smells of tarmac and traffic going nowhere – where else would you want to go?
The boys are pretty and they flex their pecs and their jeans hang from their arses, just so. The music’s better and the clubs are cooler and you can get high and fuck strangers and it’s so hot, so hot in those sweating gurning moments when you pour petrol down your throat to make your soul ignite. Blaze bright.
Doncaster smells of beer and chips and piss in doorways at night. Shouting fights, girls tottering along Silver Street, boys swagger. Ambulances, police – frightening, I guess. If you didn’t grow up there.
Off to Crystals – it’s shite. What did you expect? Music too loud, bar three deep. I gulp my pint, smoking rollies. Arm ’round Leo and next to Laura. Outside, smell of stale beer and stale fags. Cheap weed.
So of course London’s cooler, and Doncaster’s shite. It’s OK, I grew up there, I can say that.
I didn’t bother with London Pride. I mean I live there, so why would I do that? Got pissed on gin at my mate’s flat, watched ‘Bridget Jones’.
“Oh, Phil”, Laura says; hugs me tight.