Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bonekickers Update

My god, this magnificent folly just continues to delight. Although, if it really was a magnificent folly, Dr Gillian Magwilde would have knocked it down by now. She's the kind of woman you imagine always breaks wine glasses at dinner parties, and is the very last person you'd invite round to view your just-finished St Paul's Cathedral modelled in matches.

That said, apart from the trail of smoking devastation she leaves in her wake, her team's track record is quite good.
  • Episode Two: They win the American election
  • Episode Three: They rewrite the history of Boudicca
  • Episode Four: They bring peace to Iraq

To be fair, there were moments when Episodes Two and Three felt like normal television. Then Dr Gillian would say something about "love being at a forty-degree angle", or smash a vital relic, and all would be well with the world.

Some themes are emerging:

Budget There's a hilarious moment in Episode Two where a stately home is supposed to be on fire. But all they can manage is to set fire to some gravel quite near the house. Guffaw! And the future US President gives a speech to an obviously empty lecture hall. Fingers-stuffed-in mouth with joy!

Sexism Dr "Dolly" Parton is suposed to be the new Gene Hunt. Isn't sexism funny, we're supposed to think. Instead, when he tells Plucky Young Viv how it's impossible to look at her without imagining her naked in the shower, soaping herself up, we shudder. He's also remarkably fond of her breasts, which is strange, as she doesn't seem to have any. He also larks about his intercontinteal mucky webcam exploits. Eeee! When Viv complains of being letched over by someone else, he slides closer and offers to show her what real letchery is like. Eurck! Eurck! Eurck! I really don't think television is ready for the "Lovable Dirty Old Man".

Is it day or night? Some episodes are shot in the summer pretending to be winter, some in the winter pretending to be summer. But no-one knows exactly when the sun sets from week to week - is it 4pm or 10pm? So a daylight scene could be later that evening or the next day or who knows when? There's a lovely moment in episode four where no-one seems sure, so one of the characters yawns ambiguosly - yes, ambiguously! - to suggest either "it's getting late" or "I've been sat on this bench all night". Brilliant! And yes, people do sell balloons all night.

Only On TV Dialogue! At the end of this week's episode, Doctor Gillian announces "I've an Etruscan Spear in my hand, and I'm not afraid to use it!". Words cannot describe. But then, all of Episode Four was monster tosh. "There's a killer snake on the loose!" and "You mean Ali could be working for the cultists?".

Actually Episode Four was terrible beyond measure. And therefore almost as joyous as the pilot. Like a music video, characters would change location according to their lines. So, one moment Kamil and Gilly are in an antiques shop, the next they're in a nicely-lit street so he can say "My ancestors had streetlighting when yours were in bearskins".

The ending was nonsense. It featured a lot of people pointing guns at each other, Dr G throwing a priceless artefact in the air, an ancient prophecy, a little girl wanting to go to the toilet, hopeless location confusion between "Are they in the hotel or the museum, or both at the same time?" and the line "Do you want to go to hell?".

It's quite something when the least ludicrous bit of an episode of Bonekickers is the giant snake.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bare Facebook

I was never going to like Louise, but I tried my best.

My best friend at Uni was a charming Irishman called Michael. A philosophy student, a heroic drinker, a weirdly-haired charmer he made an announcement at the end of the first year. "Look, you're not doing too well at this gay thing, are you? And, I tell you, if I get to see my girlfriend as little next year, I'll not be doing too well at the straight thing either. I'm wondering if it wouldn't be easier all round if you and I just... you know..." And then he raised an eyebrow. He had great eyebrows.

Of coure, these things never work out quite like that. Michael and I never actually got around to having sex. Mostly because next term he'd realised he could just get a girlfriend who lived a little nearer than Manchester, like at the teacher training college up the road.

So, when I was introduced to Louise, I wasn't going to like her, but I was going to try my best. She wasn't great company. She was a great pouter, but Michael put up with it. He was besotted. The reasons why were fairly obvious. "It's certainly livened up trips to Confession," he admitted.

Our other friend Rob was fairly wary of her as well - but he'd been in the army, so had seen more of the world than me.

But what made it hardest of all was that, polite as I was, Louise sensed something about me and Michael, and she was horrible to me. Never overtly. Nothing you could bring up in conversation, but sharp little looks when Michael wasn't around, "oh, i thought you didn't want to go" and "sorry, didn't think you wanted a drink". But that was okay. I took the hint and avoided her company. Which meant seeing less of Michael. Which was a shame. But I knew when I was beaten.

Eventually, Louise wanted Michael to move in with her full time at training college. But Michael didn't. He'd still see Rob and me, once a week, for booze and toast. But it wasn't the same as it had been.

Gentle, wise Rob tried to sort things out. He and his equally practical girlfriend arranged a supper halfway through the third year. "It should be like old times," he said. "Michael will be there," he paused. "And Louise." I tried a smile. After all, I missed Michael. And supper there was.

Michael was his old self. As was Louise. But oddly, she'd decided tonight was the night to finish this. Michael was out of the room when she struck.

"You're a poof, yeah. Is it insulting if I called you a poof?" she hissed.

I shrugged. "It's about the same as if I said you were fat."

Bingo! She screamed, and ran from the room, wailing "Michael! Michael! James said I was fat!"

Michael came in, a face of fury, his fists already bunching. It was Rob who stopped him from hitting me. And even though everyone else in the room said what happened, that was pretty much it. Louise at one corner of the room, sobbing, her face buried in Michael's shoulder, Michael glaring at me. Pudding was pretty much ignored.

Michael sent me a letter after that. It wasn't a nice one, but it was fairly long. I remember at the time he was favouring burgundy ink. I wanted to write one to explain. "No," said Rob, "It won't help."

So, I didn't really see Michael after that. Louise got her wish, and he moved out of our corridor. You'd see him at a distance at lectures. He'd nod. That was it.

And then one afternoon, I heard a knocking at his door. I popped a head out. It was an old couple. Quite startlingly old. They turned out to be Michael's parents. They'd turned up to surprise him for his last exam, but didn't really know what to do.

I took them down to the exam halls on a bus, and on the way, they talked, as proud parents talk. Of how Michael was such a good Catholic boy. Of how they sometimes wondered if he had the makings of a priest. I had a sudden image of Michael's giggling explanation of why there was a Mars bar smeared across his wall and the way Rob and I had stared at him. But they kept up their proud parent talk, and I did my best nodding public schoolboy thing.

And then there we were, waiting outside the exam halls. It was a small crowd for a not very popular paper. And then I noticed a girl standing there, with balloons and champagne and roses. It was Louise. She crossed over, sneering. "Are these your parents?" she asked.

"No," I said, "They're Michael's."

Louise paled.

"And who might you be?" asked Michael's father, with that Irish sharpness that hints at distant thunder.

Louise realised that, all of a sudden, I could cause all the trouble in the world if I casually said that this was his long-term girlfriend.

"This is Louise," I said simply, "She's another friend of Michael's."

Michael's mother smiled. "Oh, he's lucky to have such good friends as you two."

And then Michael came out. Initially he looked relieved to have finished his exams. And then he saw the group around Louise. And his eyes fastened on me. They said, quite clearly, "This is your fault. I blame you for this." And then he fixed on a smile and walked out to his parents. And I melted quitely away.

And, apart from the occasional regret, I haven't thought about Michael since.

Until today when I get the following, ultimately puzzling message on Facebook: "Hi, this is Louise. I used to go out with Michael Curran. I'd love to know how you are."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Better the Devil You Know

It was the last night of G-A-Y on Saturday. The much-mocked moxy mega-club shut it's mouldering doors in a final shower of Kylie, and finally slid into hell, with only a few balloons floating up from the pit.

It's curious when a chunk of your gay childhood vanishes. I remember when I was still a teenager (I think), saving up for that once-a-month trip to G-A-Y, staggering back to Oxford on the dawn bus, my eyes wide with excitement. It was so loud! It was so Kylie! It was so easy to pull! Jeremy Joseph was so old!

I even slightly remember the one time G-A-Y tried "£15 and all drinks are free". Well, I can remember queuing to get in.

I remember the joy when I moved to London and realised I could go to G-A-Y Every Single Night! That lasted a fortnight. It was like eating McDonalds every day. And that's probably when my gay childhood really ended.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm with Stick

I'm walking with a stick at the moment. The reasons are very boring, and it's just a temporary measure, but goodness me, I love Mr Stick. I can't go out without him.

Mr Stick is mostly so I have something to lean on on the Tube. Interestingly, only once has it caused someone to offer me their seat. It was an elderly religious Jewish gentleman. Aghast, I insisted he stay where he was, but thanked him very loudly. Which caused the teenagers with seats to shuffle a little. Healthy, fat bastards.

Much as I love Mr Stick, he is a bit embarrassing. Not since I was dating a teenager have I got so many frankly startled looks. And the worst thing is you suddenly realise that Stick Users are everywhere, and all of them have far greater need of Stick than me. The last two days I've been preceded off the Tube by a blind man and a woman in clear agony with her hip. It means I shuffle off feeling somewhat of a fraud.

A bad thing about Stick is that I'm getting used to him. He's literally become a crutch. The thought of a stagger to Kings Cross without him is now unthinkable. And it's terrible tempting in conversation to use Stick to point at useful things. Plus I've stabbed three people accidentally through their flip flops.

The worst thing about Stick is that tourists somehow assume I'm available to give directions. The other day I was out for a short stagger when two giggling girls blocked my path demanding British Museum. I stopped, fumbled to switch off my MP3, unhooked the headphones and pantingly pointed them in the right direction. They vanished, still giggling. Exhausted, I reached for my MP3 and promptly dropped Stick throught railings into someone's basement. It took half an hour of knocking on various doors to get it back. And then I realised I'd given them the wrong directions.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Targeting the gays

Facebook has got relentless. When I was single it wanted me to go on a Gay Cruise, or even a Gay Camping Holiday (are they insane?). When I was in a relationship, it was determined that I get treatment for male pattern baldness, weight loss, back hair removal or look at some porn. I've now tried switching off that relationship shenanigans, but Facebook isn't deterred.

This week it's tried to get me to sign up for a free gay laptop (advertised by a topless tattooed muscle mary holding a Sony Vaio like a clutchbag), and now Special Gay Fake Tan so I won't look like a toasted badger.

These tings are curiously tiresome. Gmail is equally persistent, sometimes shockingly so (try sending a larky email about an STD and see what happens). It's like having a conversation on a bus with a friend and the slightly creepy man behind you leans over and butts in.

And then there are those links which seem innocent, but aren't. I am trying to book some nice gay-friendly accommodation for Edinburgh this year. One of the links on a quite helpful page suggests that "Liam and Kevin" will be pleased to give me a warm welcome. I click the picture thinking "they seem a bit young to be running a guesthouse, but maybe it keeps their love alive. Awww." (That I occasionally think like this suggests I really haven't left my childhood).

The link did not lead me to a page about their ensuite Gay B&B. The page was called "Filthy Twinks" and featured a variety of underfed Latvuanians about to have Bad Things happen to them.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I have found my new Hotel Babylon, and I'm so pleased. After a week of no television, I finally caught up with this. And I'm so glad I did. I kept remembering bits of it in the shower this morning, and then thinking "no, you dreamt that bit. That didn't happen."


It is simply BANG. It is so joyously wrong it makes you wonder if the commissioning brief said "We are looking for a glossy drama that the Gays can laugh at." Everything about it is perfect - the cast are lovely, it's beautifully shot, and has had money poured over it. But the script...

A few years ago the BBC made "The Young Visiters" based on a 9 year-old's story. Bonekickers goes one better and devotes an entire series to a child's crazy logic. It's like an Armstrong & Miller sketch lasting an hour. Stuff just happens, and keeps on happening, because some screaming brat is yelling AND THAT'S WHAT WOULD HAPPEN. AND THEN THEY FIGHT. LOTS. COS I SAY SO.

So the cast just say stuff that's either wildly clunking or daft. Hopeful young Viv keeps saying that "God is in the little things", and unit head Dr Gillian Magwilde (I had to look it up, but no, that is really her name) talks to her trenches like errant pot plants, cooing "Come on, give up your secrets!".

And yes, suddenly Knights Templar stalk the streets. Brilliantly, they cast Paul Nicholls (last seen kicking gays to death in Clapham Junction) as the loony one who beheads Muslims. Is his agent carving him some sort of niche as a minority slayer? The best thing, though (and I was warned about this, but didn't believe it) is that every one of his lines has been dubbed on afterwards, so it's almost like he's narrating. Sweetly, the two Knights Templar are both pretty boys who share a bedroom, but spend a lot of time in frustrated weeping. "Keep drinking till it gets better" one tells the other. I took this as an instruction. Both end fairly unhappily, and on balance, it would have been better if they'd just shagged.

I could list all of the wonderful moments (but then the internet would fall apart). There's the dead secret order of "Geomantine Monks" whose papers are hidden across time. Or, seemingly, in a university library on a shelf neatly labelled "Geomantine Monks".

There's the lovely local who, when our heroes are looking for the Templar church says, "It's closed, but if it's sightseeing you're after, you can look at my dovecote." And lo and behold, the immaculately clean dovecote contains a neatly sealed paving slab that handily leads to a Secret CGI Templar Chapel. Who would have thought it?

It is at this point that I should point out that the dovecote contains absolutely no birdshit. This distracted me. As much as when one of the characters looks around and says "12 rows, with 56 pigeon holes in each. That's 666 - the number of the beast,"

Two things were wrong with this. Firstly, there were clearly way more than 12 rows in the dovecote. Secondly, 666 divided by 12 is 55.5. Okay, I had to check that, but it seemed fishy maths at the time. Clearly the child in charge was screaming "IT IS RIGHT" and waving around maths homework smeared with jam and melted chocolate.

Anyway, at this dizzying point, they descend into the CGI cavern full of priceless versions of the True Cross. Dr Magwilde promptly sets fire to them ("It is okay, they are just CGI"), and then has a fight over them on ropes with Paul Nicholls and a sword, while underneath plucky Viv sings Jerusalem.

Bang. If ever there was a non-sexual money shot, this was it. I genuinely thought television couldn't get more exciting than Doctor Who the other week, but I was wrong. I tried to stop myself from simply weeing with joy, and couldn't. I had to pause and then watch it all again, jaw swinging gaily in the breeze.

Minutes later, it's over. Not only the True Cross, but also the priceless CGI chamber and the dovecote are destroyed. The owner seems cheerfully delighted at this. The remaining pretty boy Knight Templar is left devastated. What do the main cast do? They trot off to the pub. Laughing.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

And Just A Hint of Apple

M&S are clearly employing someone with an apple fixation in their Smoothie department. Trying to buy an M&S smoothie that isn't, in fact, mostly apple juice topped up with a bit of strawberry pulp is a challenge.

They even beat you on the double bluff. Their "Kiwi and Apple Cooler - fresh Kiwi with a hint of apple" turns out to be 53% apple juice. That sounds like the kind of hint that involves a brass band and a banner.

Now, yes, this sounds more pathetically middle class than usual, but I'm living off bloody smoothies at the moment, and have taken against the inescapable tang of apple juice. An easier solution, it turns out, is a McD's thick shake. Absolutely no fruit, guaranteed.

I prefer not to think that M&S are just bulking up their smoothies with the cheapest thing they can lay their hands on. Instead, I'm convinced they've employed some apple obsessive, who takes perverse delight in inviting people round for supper and then crowing at the various ways in which he's hidden apples in everything from the soup to the curry and the chocolate blancmange.

My mum is just the same about sultanas, and I can't stand those either.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


South London. For many Londoners it's like the Science Museum - a splendid place that they really intend to visit. One day. When they're not so busy.

People do really live there. Noble souls with firmly-set jaws, and the proud air of someone living with a terrible illness. Whenever someone tells you they're moving South, it's always said bravely. "Honestly, it's really manageable these days. It's ten minutes by bus from Clapham."

You nod sympathetically, ask if there's anything you can do, and think "I will never see you again."

It's never the same if they move to Brighton. You'll see them fairly often, as it's far easier to get to, and has a beach. That makes it an honorable member of Zone 2.

This brings us to another tricky issue. No-one is exactly sure what South London is. Waterloo, for example, is far too central and useful to be South London. Clapham also has its fans, people who are prepared to sit on the Other Bits of the Northern Line, sailing through quaintly-named places that you think were simply painted on the Tube Map to make it look busy.

The problem with Clapham is the people who live there. Oh, they're marvellous, but they're a bit touched, if you know what I mean. If you go there for a dinner party, someone may suggest nipping to Vauxhall for a cheeky disco (Vauxhall is NOT South London. No one knows exactly where it is). And they will always say, "Let's catch the Overland. It's so much easier."

This is the difference between Northerners and Southerners. South London folk have clearly had A Bad Experience on the tube and try and avoid it at all costs. North Londoners thrive on Bad Experiences on the tube. It makes us the haloumi-eating bastards we are today.

But South Londoners are obsessed by the Overland Train. One Clapham friend points out that you do get a magnificent class of Rough on the train. And this is true. You can easily lose your heart and your wallet - but you should never try and take South London Rough home. A friend is currently dating one. In the beginning it was all truculent violence and brutal sodomy. Now he cooks Sunday Roasts and plays Abba CDs. Tragic.

Mind you, he says that since they had that "Clapham Junction" drama about gay bashing, property prices have soared. Which tells you at least four odd things about Londoners, and one dark thing about the human soul.

The Overland Train, along with knife crime and Alexandra de Vane, is South London's most remarkable feature. Yesterday a friend and I both tried to go to Dinner Parties in South London. I was going to "Brockley", she was going to something like "Ebbsfield End". At about 7 o'clock on a Saturday, London Bridge starts to look like a resettlement camp for lost souls clutching bottles of pink fizz. It is full of departure boards listing destinations that are Clearly Invented (Penge?). I found myelf standing next to a baffled Muscle Gay gawping slack-jawed at the board and stroking his Echo Falls for comfort. He glanced at me, and the look said "I normally wouldn't notice you, but if you take me away from all this I will make you happy." I shook my head sadly. I had to get to Brockley.

The Overland Train is just like a proper train that goes to real places, but it contents itself with rattling slowly through Dad's Army destinations called "Upper Warlingham" and "Knockholt". No one ever gets on or off at these stations. Why would they? They're not real.

I once had a friend who lived somewhere far-flung that began with B. You could reach him via an exhausting combination of tube, train and DLR. At the station were trees, fields and cows. This is not South London. This is simply a way of letting the good folk of Kent see Les Mis.

Brockley was lovely. It has a few streets of Very Nice Houses that have been lovingly done up by people Who Wish They'd Bought In Kentish Town When They Had The Chance. It had a lot of trees (each decorated with a picture of a different lost cat), and a variety of 50s utility furniture and Christmas trees lining the pavements.

It also has a Tesco. As Tescos go, it looked like those lonely outposts in Star Trek that are casually wiped out by marauding Klingons. Nervous staff stood behind a counter, ready to beam out at the first sign of trouble. The stock was almost entirely crisps and nappies. "It's really changed the area," said my friend Joe, "There's even a gay couple who shop in here sometimes. You never saw them at the 24-hour corner shop."

At the end of a lovely evening, I stood on a freezing platform, next to a drunk man who was simultaneously pounding the information point and urinating.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Not dead!

Merely resting.

Anyway, hasn't Big Brother been fabulous? It's given us Vilest Woman Alive, Alexandra De Vane (surely a shoo in as next Doctor Who companion), and also managed to break a taboo that no-one had really imagined showing on television before, that of sulky gay Dennis spitting on a Muslim.

It's really been full of "I can't believe that just happened," moments. This year, truly will be the year that one of the housemates invents a bacterium which escapes and destroys humanity.

Of course, the real joy is offered by these two:

Ah, Dale and Stuart. With Stuart's arrival, Dale's visions of Alpha Maledom crumbled. The question is, what happens next? Well, they've worked out together, but Stuart has yet to prove his ultimate supremacy over Dale. Which will probably take place with Brokeback-style sodomy on the live stream. Well, that's why I keep tuning in at any rate.