A topic which has popped up often in conversation recently has been hirsuteness. Or hairiness for the linguistically challenged - especially on men's backs.
Randy has hair all over, and his girlfriend loves it. Ian has hairy shoulders, but waxes them for his boyfriend. Me, I've always wanted to be hairier than I was - particularly when young - probably to prove I wasn't a girl.
Barbara wouldn't go near a man with a hairy back, and asked if we could do a poll on the matter. Ever ready to oblige, here it is.
But never forget that fussiness is a privilege of the attractive or rich. As the years go by, the main thing you look for in a partner is a pulse.
Find what they think about where you live, on Up My Street. It's a hoot. (UK only, sorry.)
Apparently NB reposes in Type 23: Affluent City Centre Areas, Tenements and Flats. There's loads of boring but probably useful stuff about schools, councillors etc, but the bit to aim for is right at the bottom of the screen called ACORN Full Profile. It's seriously nuts. I learn that I watch a medium amount of ITV, am very likely to own a microwave (I'd rather lose a limb), and have a low probability of owning 2+ cars. (As if!) Also I am, as you'd probably guessed, unlikely to be aged 0 - 14. Try it. You'll love it. You just enter your postcode.
Link thanks to Blue Witch. (Here at NB we rarely indeed nick others' posts, but this one is so important it merits the largest possible circulation.)
That's It, Folks!
I probably won't write much more about the war, as what little I have to say has already been said.
Peace would be lovely, but
It won't happen, because
Our species is fundamentally flawed, and
Populations are only useful to serve the needs of business, including
Television News, which is a very low form of life indeed.
It's been a while since we've linked to Julie Burchill from NB, as with the advent of blogging she's become a wee bit redundant. But you might enjoy her most recent article on luvvies and other anti-war protestors. (Those of you with still-functioning memories might recall that not only have we written about show-biz shouters here, we even had a poll on it.)
Would everyone please get rid of Haloscan Comments? I'm sick - up to here, I tell you - of waiting two minutes for a page to load, only to find there are no damn comments when you get there. It's a bugbear.
So many points I've noticed today, but I don't know if I've the patience to weave them into a connected narrative. Or if I'm paid enough. So let's maybe just fire them off.
Hilary Andersson (BBC) is having a bad hair day. It's lank, greasy and unkempt. Plus her nose is sunburnt, there's a button missing from her cardigan, and sweat lines run up and down the sides of the placket.
For Hilary, Gawd bless her, has become a stoolie. A ploy for Al Jazeera to pick up on, and rebroadcast to the enemy. Today she was waxing on about the people of Basra blaming the coalition forces for the current mess. Well, that's understandable. The ratpack mantra now is that - oh dear me - the Iraqi's aren't greeting our boys like saviours. Rather they're blaming them for the invasion.
But the main point of Hilary's bulletin was to state that Basra wasn't completely secured. There was an area to the NE where Iraqi troops could still gain entry to the town.
Cut to Group Captain Al Lockwood, a man born to speak to camera, who was as icy to Sian Williams as the Atlantic was to The Titanic. "Basra is completely secured," said Captain Lockwood, from the somewhat greater distance of Qatar. Qatar is pronounced CUH'ter, I learn on a weblog. Iraq is now pronounced a Bushian EYE'rack, according to (British) Group Captain Lockwood. (That was a bit creepy, btw.) Talk about cultural influence.
But I digress. Later, on Frost on Sunday, Hilary Andersson said in the clearest possible terms that the NE of Basra was available for enemy ingress. She even suggested the Tigris River, and a bridge, lest they forget their own geography. "The Iraqis would be in a position to enter NE Basra if they wanted to."
What's going on here?
If I were an Iraqi general, the last places I would go to are the ones our Hilary recommends! Oh dear me. Has Naked Blog become subversive? Or just realistic? Is that Special Branch at my door, armed with a dodgy hard disk? Or just an hallucination brought on by too much easy living while young men die to support the needs of business?
Just as it ever was.
General Sir Peter de la Billiere, Gulf War 1 veteran, said that British forces were spread too thinly. He made particular reference to "people going on strike", meaning of course the Fire Brigades' Union. I recall them saying they wouldn't strike for the duration of the war, but naturally HM Government can't believe that one.
There was one of those double face interview shots with STUDIO on the left, and PENTAGON on the right. It reminded me of the time they sent that toy tank thing to Mars, complete with TV camera, and there was a wonderful, paradigm-shifting caption: STUDIO and MARS. You couldn't make it up. Maybe I was the only one who noticed.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the war was a violation of the UN Charter, but refused to be drawn on semantics. Lord Deedes said it's always nice weather during a war. Christina Odone, former editor of The Catholic Herald, is marrying a divorced man in June, and expecting a baby in July. So they're not going to let her take Communion any more. I thought it was called Mass. She should join the Church of England instead and have a white, if plumpish, wedding.
John Simpson said he was wrong, very wrong. David Blunkett refused to say the Prime Minister was wrong. I sensed that if he hadn't been blind he would have walked out of the interview.
In Baghdad, Salam Pax, who has now the greatest readership our young medium has known, remains silent. Are the phone-lines down? Is he dead? Or staging the greatest drama of the reported war?
Much speculation, in comment, email and tagboard, over the identity of yesterday's mystery hunk.
Some sort of meeting of blogqueens tonight in Duckie, wherever that is. Dress Code: Troubled Diva t-shirt and trousers with the arse cut out. Are blogqueens taking over the medium? Do faggots get everywhere these days?
Fascinating quiz on Saddam's "career" over on Here Inside. A must for all you quiz-lovers. It's multiple choice, so you can always guess. (No coughing, though.)
San is 18 and a few weeks, which violates my usual 21+ rule, but what the heck. Just for a change. Also he's in glorious black and white, as I've been feeling a bit "arty" with my snapping of late.
San's just off to university shortly, and naturally feeling dead excited about it! Wondering what life will hold for him...
Wait!! What's happening?? I'm getting some sort of... impressions... some sense of impending... what can it be?
I see the next half-decade as being immensely turbulent for him... too much study grafted on to too much innocence of the bad, bad world ahead. I'm seeing a desperate but doomed romance, made, cruelly broken, despair and breakdown. He'll never dare risk another one after that.
But then - ten years on - I'm getting a more domestic impression, calmer yet still with the energy of youth... house owner maybe... friends of like age and persuasion... a good time with many laughs...
Another ten and I'm seeing the energy quite severely sapped now... too many late nights, too much booze, too many desperate fumbled liaisons for that fleeting half hour of intimacy...
Then I see a huge disease sweeping the planet, which somehow he'll mysteriously avoid. He'll wonder about that often in his quiet moments. Why me? Why not me?
Another ten and - wait! - what's this I see now? Surely not? Surely not that childhood dream come true? Have the Burroughs and Genet of his youth worked up to the surface at last?
I'm tired now, so that's enough this time. Too much soothsaying is not a good thing so early in the day. If you have seen San today, please tell him Peter is still looking for him.
My thanks to the Village crowd yesterday, for their companionship and support, especially Alastair, Granny, Babs and Dean - who was particularly kind and interested. Babs is having her kidney stone ultrasounded today. Send her your healing waves.
Where is Raed? was on News 24 at 05.30. They read from it, but didn't give the URL. Do you ever get the feeling that your life has lost its URL, somewhere along the way?
(Scholars of the Classics might wish to correct my Latin.) OK now? Right then. Having had my thoughts, words and indeed entire posts nicked over the last couple of days (but amply credited, darlings - I'm not cross), today I'll do a bit of pinching myself.
"On Monday the newspaper (Guardian) lifted a whole three pages word-for-word from the online diary of the Baghdad blogger, a series continued today, and then today there's also another whole page listing the rules for an imaginary drinking game. Admittedly the imaginary drinking game is fantastic, but it seems that the press may have crossed a thin here line in reprinting whole chunks of web content in order to fill newspapers. But I still wonder how long it will be before newspapers really do look like blogs. Or is that until blogs look like newspapers?"
To which we wasted no time putting pen to paper like this... (You can detect I'm having a day off today :)
"No - the time I would once have spent leafing through the newsprint I'm now happier clicking on the websites of people I've come to know, in a way that print journalists don't attempt. (With the probable exception of Julie Burchill, who could well qualify as the country's greatest blogger. The letters page is her comment box.)"
But wait - there's more...
"Yes, there's more variety in a newspaper than in a single blog - but we're not talking about one blog, we're talking about the totality... Think about the present magazine guest week on Troubled-Diva, compare it with possibly the finest web-writing currently available on Kill Your Boyfriend, supplemented by the first-person accounts from Baghdad on Where is Raed? If there is a newspaper with that breadth of style and content, then I've yet to find it... It's a mass democratisation of the written medium, which until now has been under strict control."
(Please note, the author of Kill Your Boyfriend illustrates some of his quite beautiful stories with explicit sexual photographs which some people might not enjoy.)
Also, I'm indebted to Tom Coates of plasticbag for first bringing the "totality" concept to my attention.
And that's it. It's another beautiful day, and I have to pick up a package from The Village. This is a photo album my late mother kept of me, from day zero upwards. One look at her face, one sentence of her hope-filled writing, and I just know I'll howl the place down. So they've kindly installed a help-line for me, in extremis. What goes around, comes around.
Q: What did the mouse say after taking the viagra?
Or don't, if - like me - you couldn't give a toss about it.
"Located in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty was a gift of international friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is one of the most universal symbols of political freedom and democracy...
Now is the time to give it back!"
Plus e-bay are auctioning Sadaam (sic) Hussein's Head on a Silver Platterhere. Highest bid so far is only $6.50, so you could still get in with a bargain. Delicious with a touch of basil and rosemary, I'm told.
I heard the News today,
Kerplonkski: "You will understand that Hilary Andersson, like all our reporters, is unable to say exactly where she is, or to give any information about troop movements and plans." Well, that makes a change. Clearly they've been reading Naked Blog.
Could wor 'Tasha be the next gay icon? She dresses slutty, and her name begins with K. Just give her a drug habit and a bf who beats her up...
Listen - if they're on the internet then they're not very secret, are they, dumbo? Why not just look in your local Yellow Pages under Saunas and Massage Parlours, and nip along. But you're supposed to be over eighteen, so make sure you've done your homework and left your pencil case at home.
My own viewing has been (almost) exclusively from BBC News24. But there are other outlets. Charlie of Here Inside writes today about Channel 4 News, and by one of these synchronicities which keep popping up, Blue Witch is busy discussing ITV News, as well as giving a woman's opinion of the Kaplinsky/Raworth divide, back on the Beeb. William Rees-Mogg analyses a load of Cable News in The Times. So if you thought they were all the damn same, then you was wrong, wasn't you? (Link via Charlie.)
(Doncha just love all these colourful bloggers, btw? Blue Witch, Green Fairy, to name but two. Me, I can't wait for Scarlet Woman and Red Riding Hood.)
Although it's not even been up for a day, our latest Poll shows a preliminary indication of 76 percent who think there is too much coverage of the war on TV. Add your voice now.
If yesterday was about anything in blogland, it was definitely the day of Where Is Raed? (Sidebar.) Interesting comment from NB reader asta in the comment box...
"I wrote to Blogger/Pyra/Google this morning to make a plea that he be kept online, no matter what the traffic, and received a note from someone at Google assuring me that he's being looked after."
Thanks for doing that, asta. But please still use restraint, everyone, as his local ISP is crashing with the traffic. I'm limiting myself to one click per day.
Also yesterday we spent some time in Technorati's Top 100 Current Events list. But - you know the internet - zero to hero and back again in less than a day. I never even saw it.
In other news...
Good to get away from both bingo and the war yesterday, and soon my feet directed themselves to The Malt and Hops, where a nice hour ensued chatting to Steve and Shazza, both avid NB readers. (Sometimes Steve uses the erudition of NB as a cover, secretly surfing for pr0n when his wife isn't looking! How about that?) Shaz and I both agreed that we preferred the moving variety that you get on videotape. As I say, a pleasant time, marred only slightly by Shaz's use of the "poof" word in my direction. I just don't like it, and normally correct people immediately. Then they always say, "Oh, I was just being friendly..." and so on ad infinitum. Yadda.
Then to the Port o Leith (default) Bar, where in the midst of talking to Big Al and Evergreen Norma, my eye chanced upon a very attractive man I'd seen once or twice before. I really, really musn't abuse my sources here, and risk embarrassing my new (straight) friend. Suffice to say that within half an hour we were outside in the street, doing a photo-shoot for Hunk of the Week! And what a foxy little tease he is!!
"Is this for Poof of The Week?" said Gary, barman and Gulf War 1 veteran, breezing butchly past us. Leith's that sort of place.
Quick Quiz: Why do people aged 55 - 65 like William Rees-Mogg so much?
It's a lovely day, and I'm going out. While you lot have been attacking your bodies with substances and noise over the weekend, I've been hard at work redistributing pensions. It's my calling, you see.
I'm sick of pretending to write about things I know absolutely nothing. Such as wars.
I should stick to what I know best. Myself.
All eyes this week will rightly be on Troubled Diva Guest Week, now resplendent with new banner. And guest stars. I'd imagined (for no good reason, really), this project was to be some sort of "scholarship" for the deserving poor - but it's ended up somewhat different! You have to hand it to mike...
The Oscars. Who cares?
Taken. It's finished. Turns out the entire 15 hour telethon was for nothing more than to promise a sequel. You couldn't make it up. I won't be watching.
...to investigate my latest hobby-horse. Self-explanatory, methinks.
More on Where is Raed?
It appears that this Baghdad blog is now the most-linked-to weblog in the world, according to today's Guardian report. Which newspaper then displays an unforgiveable breach of copyright by printing out the recent postings here. This really is the pits, and will show a green light to every other copyright thief who treats the internet as a giveaway zone. (Unless, of course, they're reproducing with permission.) Hmmm.
Update, Noon: At the very time I was penning these thoughts on copyright, mike of troubled diva was saying exactly the same in the comment box below.
10pm. Just in from work, after a hard day at the bingo, and what do I see on the News? Coalition forces are meeting pockets of resistance here, there and - frankly - all over the place. Bang, bang - I shot you down.
Could it be (irony) that the reason the Iraqis know just where to attack our troops is that
THEIR EVERY MOVEMENT IS PLASTERED ALL OVER THE TV?
No - surely not. An average four-year-old could work that one out. Must be some flaw in my reasoning.
FRIENDLY FIRE (On the shooting down of an RAF plane by a US missile.)
My thoughts go out to the families of all, of whatever "side", who have been or will be hurt or killed in this conflict. But, my o my, aren't words cheap? Nevertheless, they are all I have, and I know from recent events in my own life just how welcome they sometimes can be. BBCi Report.
They go out somewhat less to those journalists, ever desperate for "the scoop", who couldn't give a rat's arse about the consternation and horror they cause to terrified, waiting families. Take the following...
9.45 am Air Marshall Brian Burridge, speaking to David Frost from Qatar. "We've got to remember the families who are watching this programme, still lacking information."
Frost: How many people were involved in this tragedy?
Burridge: I'm not telling you that.
Frost: What sort of plane was it?
Burridge: I'm not telling you that either. We'll make one announcement when we have the full facts. (Frost then desisted.)
Compare and contrast at 10.05 am, just twenty mintues later, Paul Adams, a reporter for the BBC, also in Qatar. "The plane, possibly a Tornado..." Then at 10.10, "The plane, now thought to be a Tornado..." (Were the relatives contacted at this point? Does anyone at the BBC care?)
What sort of serviceman blows up his own side with grenades? This one is so off the planet that no-one seems even to be trying to discuss it.
Too much information, sweetie.
Do you, like me, sometimes draw back and just wonder at the amount of information given out on the TV? Is there censorship? There certainly should be. Is there deliberate misinformation? Ditto, if it will spare one drop of blood.
Take last night. There I was, flopped out after work (Saturday is by far our busiest day), and watching News 24, as you do, when there's a war on. Much showing of American B52's taking off from an English airfield. (I forget which one, but it's irrelevant.) "This must be deliberate," I thought. "This must be for the Iraqi military to notice. Surely, in one million lifetimes, the BBC couldn't release militarily sensitive information in this way." (Remember the Falklands news disaster? I do.)
Then this morning I read on Where is Raed (which had mysteriously popped onto my "pages searched for" list), the following. Take time to put yourself in this Iraqi man's shoes, if you will, and marvel or not at this unique congruence of TV news and weblog...
"The most disturbing news today has come from Al-Jazeera, they said that nine B52 bombers have left the airfield in Britain and flying "presumably" towards Iraq, as if they would be doing a spin around the block. Anyway they have 6 hours to get here." Read more...
If you look at nothing else today, you should read this Baghdad blog. I've seen it mentioned on various other sites.
No Fly Zone...
I've just spotted (by virtue of its lack of stealth) a bluebottle buzzing in my window. It will hopefully be the first of many. They find their way here easily from under the floor, courtesy of a now-disused mousehole. And I'm hoping that it and its family will be devouring the subterranean smelly dead thing I've been complaining about for weeks. Earth to earth. Then I squirted it with Doom Fly Spray, because I can.
Surf anonymouslyhere. Could be just the thing for all you naughty office types, wasting your employer's time and money taking a necessary short break. Anyone remember anon.penet.fi?
A fascinating conspiracy theory to explain the British Government's eager involvement in Iraq is on Caitlin's site, Flat at the Top of the Stairs. Get in quickly, as she'll be taking it down in a few days, for legal reasons. A metameme in the making.
Coverage of the coverage
Although the cyberwaves are humming hot with the latest goings-on, here at NB we tend naturally to caution. Without full knowledge of the circumstances - which hardly any bloggers possess - the majority of comment is as pissing in the wind. Opinions are like arseholes - everybody's got one, and they all stink. And, as plasticbag Tom succinctly puts it, "Anyone who is 100% sure of the morality of their position with regard to the war in Iraq probably hasn't understood the issues involved."
But the telly now - that's a different kettle of fish. Already a blog veteran of 911 and Afghanistan, I've written often about my loathing for "war correspondents". Oh yes - I've waxed melodramatic with grand phrases... "circling like vultures round the world's greatest horrors"... and so on and so forth. I'm sure you could knock out half a dozen with your eyes closed, yet back then I thought I was smart. Strange how you progress in your craft, isn't it? Blogging puts the "drama" into "queen".
So this seems to be the current state of play. Kate Adie has gone AWOL, complaining about present-day newscasters being "tits and bum with nothing in between". (Intestines, Kate?) Heehee. I wonder if she was referring to Kaplinsky and Raworth? It's a sad but merciless fact for telly-babes that their job depends more on the F-factor than any amount of IQ.
Talking of which, I swear Kaplinsky gets more slutty by the day. Not only does she have her heavily-lipsticked gob hanging half open much of the time, but nowadays she looks constantly like she's just been woken up. Don't blame me, darlings - I'm just a flaming you-know-what. But still I notice these things.
The burka-wearing, Kabul-liberating John Simpson has been kicked out to the 'burbs, replaced in Baghdad by the young and cutesy Rageh Omaar, whose bulletins are monitored by the Iraqi government. "This is what it feels like being on the wrong end of the world's only superpower." Yep - that's definitely monitored.
Lyse Doucet is back, with that tantalising, "where the hell does she come from" accent. Scott and I both loved Lyse during Afghanistan. (Thinks: where on earth do they all go to in between wars? Teaching English as a foreign language, maybe.) Plus Jonathan Charles, whom I somewhat hysterically called an "enemy of the state" during Afghanistan. O tempora. O mores. O who the fuck cares any more? Everyone's a correspondent these days.
GAS MASK WEARER
Yes - I'm going to feel awful if anyone gets killed or injured by gas, so I'm crossing my fingers that they won't. Yet there's something profoundly disturbing yet at the same time funny about a gas mask.
It's possibly the quickest and easiest way to become instantly grotesque - a bug-eyed alien. Just after the war (the big one) there were a few of them lying about my grandad's house, so my cousins and I had loads of fun putting them on and shooting each other.
OK - I know there've been no further episodes of my life this week. Partly the war. Partly some (more) family news. But mostly I feel the interesting bit has been done now - mam and dad's wartime courtship - so all that's left will be some whingeing kid banging on about how dreadful his parents were and how they never understood him. My mother made me a homosexual. If I give her the wool, will she make me one? (Ouch - that's as ancient as Iraq.)
I know it's not fashionable to say anything positive about the USA at the moment. But here at Naked Blog we don't give two hoots about fashion.
So I want to give my plaudit to whoever wrote US President Bush's speech yesterday evening, and US Secretary Rumsfeld's similar this morning. (Adjusted for US time.) These were both masterworks.
We bloggers sit - impotently - at our screens, shouting our unread horror to the world. But some - some tiny few - get the chance to craft the words that really matter. The words which save lives, and keep more blood where it's meant to be. And I salute them.
Oh dear me. It's happened at last. Various of my managers have discovered the delights of Naked Blog, and are busily searching for themselves. Fortunately we've maintained propriety and commercial secrecy throughout, so I foresee no problems or conflict. But you never know. Watch this space for P45's.
Never the most socially-assured of men, I usually get scared shitless meeting people for the first time, and yesterday was no exception. How drunk was I !!
I sense this might have startled Caitlin somewhat more than Sarah. Nevertheless, very nice afternoon, folks - what I can remember of it - and looking forward to the next one already. The photo shows Babs the Chef, wor lass Sarah, and our mutual friend Dean, who was getting all excited about Sing Along to Abba later that night.
It's a gas, gas, gas
Great one this, for gas mask fetishers everywhere. (Oh yes - there are plenty of them... I've read about it on the internet.)
Behind the rubber is Hilary Andersson of the BBC, speaking from Kuwait in the middle of a real alert. Don't quite know why she was exposing so much cleavage in the circumstances, but I'm sure that for some viewers the combination would have caused mass disruption.
So there I was, early yesterday afternoon, sitting on the dock of the bay. Well, sitting on the harbour wall at Newhaven, more accurately, but the idea's the same.
I'd decided to abandon my riverside walk, as - frankly - I'm getting a bit sick of it, and turned my well-fed and Guinness'ed feet towards the sea.
(Barbara's special homemade beef olives, with peas and Lyonnaise potatoes. Yeah - feel those taste-buds salivating as you read!)
The tide was high (oh - do cut it out). (I can't help it - there's hardly a sentence left that hasn't been made into a hit song.) So I just sat and watched and waited. The harbour was a millpond. Small boats afloat, rather than tipped on their sides. Fairy-tale lighthouse gleaming white in the sun. Tiny ripples teasing around my feet, closer, closer, but never so near I had to move.
A whole exquisite hour passed like that. Some people call it wasting time. I call it semi-retirement.
Later, after passing Bar Java, I heard this shout behind me. It was Grania, the best selling author of various Queen Mother books. She's stuck with her Adobe Pagemaker. She poured more Guinness down my neck. I agreed to pop round this morning to try and help, but confesssed I haven't a clue.
...an alcohol-induced hissyfit over this site when I got home, and one of its periodic withdrawals. Oh dear me. Why do I do that? Thanks to all for your kind concerns, but it was precisely to forestall those that I sleepily reinstated NB at some God-awful hour of the night. I've been a very needy blogger for ages it seems, and - as often stated - truly grateful for your (vosotros) good wishes.
But there's a limit. Compassion fatigue. Let's not confuse amateur dramatics with genuine need. Never.
Dipping your toe in the water
Fancy being a guest blogger on one of the country's leading weblogs? Not this one, silly - I'd just get jealous and sack you. No. The one to go for is troubled diva, where mike is presently accepting applications. No previous experience necessary, I think. Try it. You might like it. Plus you skip that long period at the beginning when almost no-one at all is reading you.
"If the hanging chards had fallen the other way in the Florida election, then we almost certainly wouldn't be about to commit this act with Al Gore as the US President." Robin Cook, quoted from memory.
Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary, and until today Leader of the House of Commons, has resigned from his Cabinet position over the Iraq war. Tomorrow he will vote against the Government's proposal to commit British troops to that conflict, and he urged the House of Commons to do likewise. He said he hoped that might prevent British involvement in the forthcoming war.
Me, I wonder. But I have to admit he spoke with dignity and authority, especially as he spelled out the way in which the willing international coalition against terror has been so utterly dismantled, in such a short time. However, like all resigners, that will be the last time he is ever listened to.
Why did Mr Blair take the Bush route so eagerly? He has gambled and clearly failed. What now for our country, now near-isolated in Europe?
If we're hellbent on going to war with the place, could we at least settle on how to pronounce it? Is it
(a) irrack, or
(b) iraaarc ?
Often you get two newsreaders at the same BBC desk with different interpretations. Surely someone must know... maybe someone who lives there. Am I being picky in my impotence, or what? I could have been a world leader too, you know, if things had worked out differently. I'm convinced of it.
Hardest of all is Jeremy Paxman. IRACKKKK he snaps, with the ack-ack bouncing off the studio walls. Whereas Nicholas Owen, who always strikes me as much nicer to live with, favours the gentler IRAAARC.
And what about that Rageh Omaar? Hunk or not? There he stands in uptown Baghdad, wearing his light but stylish anorak, and I think, "I wouldn't jump over you to get to Natasha Kaplinsky."
Do shut up department
In the next few days, hundreds - possibly thousands - of people are going to be bombed back into the molecules from whence they came, yet the BBC prattles on about, "Robin Cook will go. Clare Short might stay." WHO CARES? Do get on with it, for heavens sake. Frankly, I'm surprised Cook still has a career after his ex-wife's delicious revelations.
Just been watching Breakfast with Frost, which is a pretty terrifying concept if you think about it, especially when Mr Frost looks so much like your newly-dead dad. (When he was alive, of course.)
On the show were assorted nonentities, but one dude who easily stood out from the herd was the Spanish PM, Jose Maria Aznar. (Isn't it strange that when you hear the words Jose Maria you automatically add Olazabal?) That's sport for you.
Senor Aznar said the word nosotros a lot. Nosotros... I love that one. Does it mean we or our? My grey matter occasionally lets me down these days.
Oh, and doesn't he wear his moustache well? It takes a Latin man to carry off a tache. On a gringo they're just so gay.
Things have polarised into two different POVs.
The UN is a failed institution, incapable of reacting appropriately where required with authority or force. Mr Bush's view.
The USA is a dangerous force, a loose cannon, no longer willing to heed international opinion on a whole raft of key issues. Mr Bush's opponents' view
Remind me never ever again to criticise young Allie's apparent lack of powers. Yesterday in the penultimate episode, she pulled out the big one, big time. But now she's tired. Well, despite being the Universe's greatest superpower (take note, Georgieboy), she is only nine years old.
Can't wait till next week for the grand climax. USA versus Aliens. There'll have to be some sort of peaceful resolution - as even in fiction, the USA isn't permitted to lose a war. But neither can they really win, without the story seeming terribly xenophobic and isolationist. The BBC have sensibly withheld the final episode's earlier, cable screening, so as to prevent anyone spoiling the plot.
Search of the Day
big black cooks I was about to blame the schools, but now I note the searcher is from abroad. So that's all right then. Some things are universal, even without a second resolution.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher (nee Roberts) and I have two things in common. We were both raised "above the shop", and we both worked for the J Lyons Company in West London. That latter will have to wait for twenty odd years, but the first begins almost immediately.
My grandfather had long since left the cokeworks, taking a correspondence course in arithmetic and bookkeeping, and was now the manager of a furniture shop. It was owned by two brothers in Sunderland - Jews, my mother used to tell me - but grandad was their representative in this village. He'd got the job by the innocent process of entering into dispute with them over a purchase. They were so impressed with the way he presented his case that they promptly made him manager of their store.
Nowadays, working in retail isn't thought high up the food chain. But then, back in the forties, it was practically a profession. In the land of the semi-numerate, he who can multiply two pounds eleven shillings and threepence three-farthings by nineteen, with pencil and paper only, is definitely king of the hill. Grandad had his office now, and his electric fire. And those were the skills he was shortly to pass on to me. I lapped it up.
Village status was clearly marked out. At the top was the doctor - so remote as to be almost godlike. Well, he did have the sole power of life and death. One doctor for the village, treating generation on generation. Next came the Vicar, equating roughly to the schoolteachers in standing. Somewhere below that were the shopkeepers, and - sadly - last of all the miners, whose broken backs and ravaged lungs were what really fuelled the whole shebang.
If you read the local history, and learn of the animal-like way these men and their families were treated by their employers, you will have no further questions over the reasons for and the location of the early Labour Movement.
But grandad always voted Conservative - however pointless that was in a mining village. Shopkeeper now, you see. Above the common herd. As I would be too, they hoped and prayed.
So the first home I can remember was in a flat above grandad's shop. Above and to the rear. I guess my dad was pretty pissed off about that, still yearning to take his wife and child back to Buffalo and the life he knew was so much better. The kitchen downstairs was tiny. Sink with a cold water tap only, coal range for heating and cooking and a fold-down table for eating. Every time we came in, mother would scream at the cockroaches (blackclocks) dancing on the floor. It was roach city.
When mother wasn't screaming at the cockroaches, she would scream at dad. I hated it - sitting there mute and shaking as they let rip at each other, all the time it sometimes seemed.
Nana and grandad took me in a lot, and their house was where I felt safe and happy. Nana would play endless hours of card games with me, and grandad drove me around in the car to make his "collections". (No-one could afford to buy furniture outright - it was always done on a credit basis.) "All the bonny lights of the district" we would call it, as he drove past the cokeworks and steel mills, gushing their incandescence to the night sky and my wondering brain.
The rudiments of number and letter I grasped in a trice, and was reading in no time at all. Still I remember my mother's delight when she sneaked into my bedroom as I excitedly read out loud for the first time. "Chick's Own Annual" it was called - a picture book with the words split up into syllables. "You can read!" she cried, immediately rushing out to tell everyone.
Right there and then an extremely fundamental point sank in with a vengeance. My parents' love and approval had to be earned, and the wages were my intellect.
To be continued...
Simply get yourself over to troubled diva, my sister-in-blog, and leave a comment - any comment - in mike's box. That's all.
If there are 235 comments by midnight on Friday (GMT), then mike will generously donate one hundred pounds to COMIC RELIEF (Red Nose Day), one of the UK's leading annual charity events.
Just do it. Now. A hungry baby is relying on you.
Update: 10am Don't do it!! Mike has more than enough comments now, and they're pushing the old ones off the bottom. Well done everyone, including NB readers, but most especially to mike, of course.
Still feeling charitable with someone else's money? Then nip over to My Boyfriend is a Twat, and post a joke. Any joke will do. My, this is fun! I always knew NB would come in useful for something, some day.
Here in Leith there's rarely a dull moment, but when there is one you can be sure you'll read it here first. If the council aren't installing a new wheelie-bin, then someone steals a shopping trolley from Lidl. It's that kind of place. Irvine Welsh hadn't a scoobie doo. He's just so last century.
But yesterday the traditional peace, harmony and tranquillity were quite definitely shattered - by none other than C, the young son of Robin (don't call me bisexual, I'm a screaming queen now).
There we were, sitting in the Port, looking at photos and talking about the good old days, when suddenly the phone rang. It was C. And he was in the cop shop, just a minute up the road. Robin sped off to investigate, and came back a few minutes later looking visibly pale.
"It's C," Robin began, as he unloaded his stash into Mark's Golden Virginia packet. "Him and his friend think they've found some smack. So they reported it to the cops. They had drug awareness at school yesterday."
"How exciting," I replied. "And what civic duty. But don't you think you should be with your son right now?" (C is nine or thereabouts.) "It's OK, he's sitting with his pal in the police station," Robin replied. "The cops are going to take them to where they found the heroin."
"I still think you should be there for him," I pressed on, never the one to mind my own business after a pint or three.
So Robin left, after my assurances that, no - he didn't appear drunk at all. He was the very model of good fatherhood. Scott, Mark and I ordered more juice. Pam the barmaid reglued a false nail on. Time passed.
"It's OK," Robin laughed, on his eventual return. "It was only a pile of baby milk powder. I snorted some, and so did the cop, and it's definitely nothing exciting."
"What a relief!" I gasped. "And full marks to C and his pal. I hope they get a Blue Peter badge for their efforts!" I turned then, as the idea developed itself, and addressed the gallery. "They could get some sort of syringe badge, for their school blazer... 'I bust the baby milk...' 'I grassed a dealer...' 'I've got less than a day to live...'" They laughed. Leith's that sort of place.
To Claire in the Community, premiere barmaid at The Village, on her engagement to Phil, who is the brother of Ian, who is the partner of Ally... oh, it goes on and on. "If you're gonna be an in-law, you'd damn well better learn how to cook," said Ally.
Robin (don't call me gay, I'm bisexual), is just back from Shetland, where he was fixing up the house for Shetland John to move into with Pearl's a singer. But they found a river under John's house, and had to hire a JCB earthmover. So later Robin went to a night-club, where he was startled to find everybody doing coke and eccie like there was no tomorrow. "They don't smoke (dope) up there," he said. "Too damn depressing already," I replied, sagely. "I'm not bisexual any more," he confessed to me then. "I've become a screaming queen."
Mine wasn't an easy birth. This often happens with a big man and small woman. Eighteen hours of labour and mam was about to lie down and fall asleep, possibly for ever. She was more exhausted than ever before in her life. The year was 1946, and the date New Year's Eve.
It was a home delivery, as was the custom. In nana and grandad's house, where my parents were living. The war was long behind now, with post-war Britain reeling from devastation and fiscal bankruptcy. Churchill was voted out, replaced by a Labour government, whose policies and institutions were to last for more than half a century. This was the time when both the National Health and State Education services were created. From each according to his means - to each according to his needs. Cradle to grave. The very architects of the future.
But one particular cradle was looking increasingly perilous. "Let me go to sleep," my mother begged the midwife. "I'll be all right if I just get some sleep..." The midwife shook her head, worried. This wasn't going well at all. So she sent someone for the doctor.
Now - at this point I can almost literally hear you thinking... "What on earth are you doing getting born in England? I thought the whole idea was that your mother would decamp to the USA at the earliest possible opportunity? Isn't that why she married your dad in the first place?" But things are never that simple, are they?
Mam had got herself caught in a two-edged trap. To her husband she was saying that - yes, she would go to "The States", but not quite yet. To her parents she was promising she would never ever leave them. In the end, my father compromised by saying that he would try out England, for one year only. After that he would return to his homeland, without her if necessary. And that was the atmosphere I was about to enter.
The doctor came, and sized up the situation quite quickly. "Just give me something to make me sleep for a bit," my labouring mother beseeched him. "OK," he said, firing up a syringe. "Take this," as he jabbed her arm.
I honestly don't know what insidious mixture he injected her with. Cocaine? Amphetamine? Medicine was on a huge high right then, what with penicillin just being discovered, and the classic infectious diseases were tumbling like nine-pins. For the first time ever, doctors could actually do something, rather than merely bask in the secrecy and fake authority of Latin prescriptions and suchlike.
One of the funniest things about Dad's new life in England was the hygiene gap. It was the absolute rule in NE England of the forties and fifties that people bathed and changed their clothes once a week. Friday was bathnight, and Monday was washday. Simple as that. Laundry was an immense task, involving vats of boiling water, hand-cranked washing machines, posstubs and of course the mangle (wringer) to squeeze out the water. Hard physical work. Believe me - I've watched it.
But dad - a middle-class upstate Noo Yoiker - would have none of this. Where he came from, people bathed and changed clothing daily. So you see the stage was set for conflict even at that level. "Look at these!" nana would say, holding up his one day-worn underpants. "There's nowt wrong with them. I'm not putting them in the wash. He's off his head."
And my poor mother was stuck in the middle. That's what happens when you marry exotic. So they compromised by simply ironing the underpants, and pretending they'd really been washed.
The doctor's injection certainly worked, whatever it was, and an hour or so later I made my entrance. Screaming, of course. Face pulled and distorted by the long labour. Dad took one look. "Looks just like an Englishman!" he joked, or not. "You couldn't pay him a finer compliment," the midwife retorted. Mam lit a fag. The relatives all came in. It was four hours to midnight and the birth of 1947. They drank, they smoked all over me, and that was my first evening in the world. To be continued...
...to Marc, of Kill Your Boyfriend. This young man has done more living to date than many readers here will ever do. "Who knew that being gay meant life on the streets?" is his strapline, and wow does Marc develop that theme! Required reading. A Burroughs for the present generation.
Oh, and the fact we seem to have exactly the same tastes in men, lavishly illustrated on his site (not work safe), is pure coincidence - honest, officer. Go Marc! And thanks for sharing your experiences.
PS: I'd long been puzzled by Marc's link to NB: "...I could swear this guy types on an insect..." And right now, live, it's just come to me - on the very day I award him the identical accolade! Nowt so queer as folk. (Trans: There's nothing stranger than people.)
Jaw, Jaw, Jaw
War talk. PM Blair seems to be getting dragged ever deeper into the mire over his support of US President Bush. Various Parliamentary Private Secretaries threaten to resign, and now comes the most significant of all, Clare Short, Cabinet Minister and International Development Secretary. "Some MPs now believe the disputed Iraqi policy has reached the point where Mr Blair's authority may crumble and his premiership end soon. That remains a minority view." The Guardian, link above.
The French hold Blair personally responsible for "splitting Europe" and siding with the USA. "And all for nothing," said a French commentator this morning. The US is already planning on rebuilding Iraq alone. This would be in agreement with the view of Naked Blog, that this war - like all other world events - is about business and business only.
How will the Iraq war affect Tony Blair's popularity afterwards?
More popular (28%)... Less popular (63%)... No difference (9%)
NB readers say: You've shot yourself in the foot, Tony!
New poll later today, when I think of a topic. Any suggestions?
Well, that's work conquered. I'd worried a bit about going back, as - although not quite the Royal Variety Show - there is an element of performance involved, and recent events have been unsettling to say the least. But the show must go on. Super trouper. And when I stepped up to the mike for the first time, darlings, you could have cut the atmosphere with a cliché. "Is he gonna make it?" Gotta love that adrenalin rush.
Much telly lately. On Thursday, ITV screened the first part of a fascinating profile of Margaret Thatcher - the woman, rather than the job. Maggie: The First Lady. The first episode ranged from her birth to winning her first seat. Great stuff - especially for me - what with Maggie being the same age as my late mum. Her father was vastly influential, unlike her mother whom she more or less cut after age sixteen. Odd, that, if you ask me. Could it be that that was the reason she married an older, divorced man? Or was it the certainty that she would never be short of a penny with Denis? Next episode Thursday coming, 9pm. I recommend it to all, of whatever political view.
Spielberg's Taken continues its dreary but un-put-downable progress. Honestly, you could have done Saturday's hour and a half in ten minutes, such was the lack of action. Allie (played by Dakota Fanning, aged only nine herself) is part-alien, and has so many superpowers she's a walking weapon of mass destruction. She can stop time. Yet she allows the US Army to lock her up and read Huckleberry Finn to her. Tediously, as it turns out.
Oh - there's a moderately interesting film of The making of Taken. In it writer Leslie Bohem prattles on about his craft. (No pun intended.) My recommendation: Sharpen that red pencil, Les! Also you can see the evil Colonel Crawford (Joel Gretsch) waxing theatrical about the challenge of playing a character ageing over several decades. But he does nothing of the sort! Gretsch, like almost all the cast, couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. He exists purely to mouth lines and look pretty. (At first, at least.)
Being John Malkovich I came to for the first time last night, in complete innocence, and - as I'm sure you can imagine - was completely bowled over. The film shows more inventiveness in five minutes than Taken has offered in hours on end. I've still got half of it to watch, as sleep was pressing.
By the wonders of videotape, I'm also three quarters of the way through The Real Cliff Richard. Cliff, real name Harry Webb, was born in India but came to England in boyhood. "He had a definite Indian tinge about him," said one of his former English schoolmates, who also revealed that his school nickname was Sabu. And do you know... in the early photos he really does look quite Indian, with those impossibly dark eyes. Has Cliff been in a half-caste closet all these years? Is that the real reason he's untouchable? I think we should be told.
Lots of interviews from the early days, comment about the "homosexual pop mafia" of the time (what's changed?), and Peter Tatchell to give the definitive gay viewpoint of Cliffmania. (Except that he's too young. Even I am.)
Everybody's getting "done" these days. Isn't it wonderful? As well as Cliff, there've been Elton, Bowie, and more too numerous to recall. Nostalgia is IN. And no finer illustration of it than the story below...
Previously in our story: It's wartime England and the man and woman who were to become my parents have met and fallen in love. But family conflict abounds as my dad-to-be was not local, but rather a Canadian Airforceman. During the war this meant an almost automatic "bride-flight" across the Atlantic Ocean, where the streets were said to be paved with dollars. Episode One.Episode Two.Episode Three.
"Have you told your folks we're getting married yet?" dad asked my mother for the umpteenth time. "No..." she answered, those familiar tensions building up again. "Then I will!" he said. "This has gone on long enough."
Together they walked into nana and grandad's living room, where nana was darning socks, and grandad just waking from his teatime nap. But dad wasted no time getting to the point. He'd spent weeks trying to get my mother to do just this. "Hello," he said. "We're going to get married."
Shocked silence. Although mam's friends had tried, first gently and then more pointedly, to soften up my grandparents to the idea, they'd stayed convinced that their dutiful daughter "would never marry a Canadian".
"Not with our blessing you don't!" grandad snorted. "Then we'll marry with or without your blessing," dad replied, angrily. And so the stage was set. Two worlds collide. Around me.
Sociologists put people into groups, for ease of misunderstanding. There's a fine line between "lower middle class" and "working class respectable", and I think both my sets of grandparents straddled that line quite proudly. Of my transatlantic grandparents I know next to nothing - we never met, and at the time of writing I can't even recall their names. But I do recall hearing my dad's dad having his own business repairing farm machinery, and I've independently learned that the street in Buffalo where the family lived was reasonably prosperous. But "grandad", my mother's father, was to be a huge influence on my childhood, so it's right that I should grant him his space now.
Rural County Durham before the coalrush was sparsely populated indeed. Farmers, a few landed gentry and the Church of England owned the rolling hillsides and gentle valleys, and life drifted along for centuries in much the same way. There were old families, and my grandad was born into one of those. Later were to come the miners, mostly Irish immigrants, but at that time, in the 1880's, all that was only just beginning.
His own father was a watchmaker, a highly-skilled if impecunious profession, and his family was customarily large - five sisters and three brothers, the boys redolent with the great names of the time... Havelock, Russell and suchlike. Schooling was brief and terrifying, discipline enforced with the birch. The (capitalist) cult of teenage was unheard of, and youngsters were put to work as soon as physically able. The marriage ages were 14 for males and 12 for girls, with parental consent.
After leaving school, grandad's first job was in the newly-emerging coal industry. Not in a mine, but a coke refinery, distilling the volatiles from the raw coal. "Benzol, toluol, xylol, solvent naptha," he taught me at a young age. But he was unhappy with the back-breaking conditions and slave wages, and one day got his Big Idea.
"I was walking home from the cokeworks in the rain and cold and dark," he would tell me at his knee. "And that night I went past this office. I looked in through the window, and there was a man sitting working at a desk - warm and dry with an electric fire beside him. So I thought - I want to live like that as well." And later, as time will tell, he did indeed.
Grandad was full of stories like that. He spoke. I listened, enrapt. Still now I feel in awe of his wisdom, and all he imparted to me. No wonder my poor father felt squeezed out.
Mam and dad's impending wedding was the hot topic of the village. Church of England, naturally - only the dreadfully blemished got married in a Registry Office. A Special Licence had to be got from the Bishop for some reason or other - maybe with dad being foreign - and preparations swung into overdrive.
Clothes were in even shorter supply than food during the war, strictly rationed, and a white wedding dress was only an option second-hand. But with mother being "petite" there wasn't a suitable one to be had, so instead she bought the best dress she could in dark blue. Shoulderpads and wasp waist. Think Bette Davis. Every woman in the discovered world thought Bette Davis. Dad wore his uniform.
And that was it. "I do. I do. Till death us do part." Me, I had no say in the matter, not having been conceived yet. To be continued...
Seven days now (minus a few hours), since I learned of my father's death. Not much has been achieved. Plenty of talking, drinking, thinking - but no answers, only more and more questions.
Why did we never get on? Was it him, me, or both? Was I horrible, uncaring and selfish by withdrawing five years ago, or was it necessary for my preservation and sanity? Would I still be alive now, had I not taken the seemingly hard step I took? Is self-preservation the ideal route? What about the welfare of others? Is loyalty infinite, or does there come a time for, "Enough"?
On Saturday, the first of my bereavement days, I was chatting to a gay friend in his forties, a long-term HIV patient now stabilised. "You know, C," I said to him, " - I envy the younger gay men I read on the blogs, and their good relations with their parents. I think it must be a generation thing."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I think it's the men of my age, mid-fifties plus, who were the last of the 'never darken my doorstep' period. But I don't know for sure - I'm the only one of my age doing a blog." And then - where drink and fools rush in... "The rest are all dead." I stopped suddenly, aghast at what I'd said. "Sorry, C," I bumbled, " - but it's true."
But he was OK. Unfazed. "I think you're right," he said. "The guys of your age who died in their forties did often have bad times with their families. I remember it well."
Now let me be quite clear here. I was never turned away. Always welcomed, especially by my late mother. But there was also an extra factor present - the "condition", as Stephen Fry has called it. It hung there in the family room, like an entity with no exorcist to quash it.
And once again, as will be spelled out in my story in good time, in my youth there was nothing - nowhere - for young gay people to get advice, support or education. The national mood was as set by the News of The World (the Sun hadn't started then), so you learned what you could from City of Night and The Naked Lunch. How useful! (Not.) And of course there were no entertainers such as Graham Norton, him being only the last in an ever more relaxing showbusiness lineage.
Can gay men ever have healthy relations with their fathers?
No lifestory or hunk of the week today, folks. It's back to my bingo ladies! (Oh, and don't you think Ron Davies and George Michael would make an ideal couple?)
...today, as it's the last day before returning to work tomorrow, and I feel the need for some serious socialising. All sorts of things are happening both in the world and in the blogs, but at the moment I haven't the spirit to do much recommending. You won't go far wrong with the list on my sidebar. Back to being a proper blogger soon, I promise.
Anybody ever used Amazon to sell their self-published book? (This information is needed by a friend, not me - honest.)
And in the meantime, Episode Three of my alien family saga, in which dad comes home to meet mam's parents for the first time...
And so dad came to tea the next day, feeling totally nervous, and what a shock that was to him! American and Canadian servicemen had "induction courses" to prepare them for the people of wartime Britain. The Brits didn't drink coffee, they drank tea. Beer was served "warm", not chilled. They didn't drive on the "wrong" side of the road, they drove on the "other" side. Local girls were very appreciative of nylon stockings, chocolate and cigarettes. And so it went. The contrast between the then-prosperous, middle-class Buffalo NY of my father, with the Durham pit village of my mother was as if between different planets.
But my mother had pulled out all the available stops, to impress her new suitor. And what girl wouldn't? Best table-cloth and china, kept from before the war, fresh-killed chicken from grandad's "hen-run", and even a few extra cakes from the bakery a little further down the street. In wartime, who you knew was everything. It was one huge, bustling black market - especially in food, which was the principal currency. (You couldn't eat pound notes, let's face it. But not that there were many of those, either.)
Most of the men in the village escaped call-up, because they worked in the local coal-mine - an essential war effort. Britain - and some say the very Empire itself - ran on coal. All the ships and trains, all the electricity, all the iron and steel production depended utterly on the black diamond. Oil had hardly started. Cars were so few as to be a novelty. Aeroplanes were as space shuttles.
So dad sat down to his roast chicken (a huge luxury, if he'd only realised), mashed potato, carrots and processed peas, followed by tinned pears (you could occasionally get them if you knew the right people) and "top of the milk". Plus a nice Victoria sponge cake. Like himself, the flour also came from Canada, shipped in grain convoys, and many brave lives were lost in this way to the enemy U-boats.
Mam was doubly on edge though, not only wanting to impress her possible new boyfriend, but also worried about the messages her parents were receiving. Differing agendas once again, you see. Her aim was to escape - off across the Atlantic - but theirs was to keep her at home, her being now their only remaining child. Although none of them knew it at the time, this conflict was to endure way beyond my birth, and cause lasting damage.
But the courtship proceeded, even against the odds. Romance in those days was a whole different ballgame from today, with its "your place or mine?" immediacy. Nearly everybody lived with their parents until they got married - and often after that, such was the housing shortage. So young couples depended for their wooing on friends who had homes giving some courtship space, usually in exchange for baby-sitting duties. And love will find a way, as they say.
So marriage was proposed and accepted. And then the shit really did hit the fan! To be continued...
...and welcome to Naked Blog, if you've just arrived from the Nude Weblog Awards! (Or even if you haven't.) This site sadly contains no nudity whatsoever. It's just the way that I am, as Eminem memorably raps. But have a look about the place before you surf off - you might find something here to interest or entertain you.
I'm afraid you've got me at a bit of a bad time - just grieving the recent death of my father, so as a bit of self-help I've embarked on something of a family saga. The post below is the second of two episodes. But there's plenty of other stuff all over the place. (Except nudity.)
My little venture into family history has already caused some comment in the pub. "It's just like a book," cyberslut opined. "A Jeffery Archer novel." Awesome, dude. I've never read him, but I hear he's the pits.
"How come you start your life-story before you were born?" someone else asked. "You must be making it up..."
What nonsense! Every single word is Gospel truth, which I learned at the knee of my mother. My story begins with my parents' meeting so as to illustrate and set the scene for the extraordinary time which was the second world war. Surely I'd be failing in my duty as loquator if I didn't pass on every single snippet I'd learned. So there. (Parents talked to their children in the olden days, you know. I hear it doesn't happen much now.)
What I do want, however, is your advice on which application will best display my tale in diary form... with a nice template and one single instalment to a page. All suggestions gratefully etc. (But you'll always get the hot scoop here first, of course.) It's just that the "toilet roll" blog format is hopeless for serials.
Other than that, how are you? Me, I'm dealing with my sudden bereavement in the time-honoured way, drinking, chatting, and laughing wherever possible. Plus doing this. Episode Two right below this...
"Hello! Would you like to dance?" my dad awkwardly asked, his first ever words to my mother. And so they danced. Not the night away, but only one number, as dad turned out to be pretty hopeless - at dancing at least. But if there's one thing a wartime dance-hall was not about, it was the terpsichorean arts. Oh no - these smoky barns had two quite separate agendas - sex (sometimes called "romance") for the guys, and wedding bells for the chicks.
So a girl had to use her wits every bit as much as her other parts. Neither on its own would suffice to get her that married status, that escape from satanic mills to the sunshine on offer in the States, as seen every Friday night in that new-fangled wonder called cinema. Bette and Joan were there, right enough, but the ticket to their paradise was not a stub of paper. Oh no - the real passport was as old as Adam and Eve themselves. And poor dancing was no damn obstacle.
"Let's sit down and have a drink," my mother suggested with relief, to the dance-band's closing chords.
Mam's own background in the dark, depressed NE of England could hardly have been more different from dad's in upstate NY. She was born into a second marriage, her mother having been widowed in World War One. But despite already having two daughters, my grandmother still managed to entrance my grandad down the altar once again. My mother was their only issue. After that, nana retreated to her own bedroom, and grandad was banished from the marital bed for ever. It was her health, you see. She never kept well.
Considerably younger than her two half-sisters, mam was "spoiled rotten" as we would say these days. While the older girls had to pull their weight around the house (and don't forget, running a home was hard physical work in those days), mam was already regarded as the "delicate one", and treated accordingly. When war broke out, the older girls went to Nottingham, "into service" as they called it. Service meant working in some rich household. It happened to girls a lot then. Six and a half days a week of near-slavery, for room, keep and only nominal wages. Plus sexual duties for the Master if demanded. Don't be kidded - the books and films were correct. My mother told me.
But mam herself had none of that. Because of her mother's (real or imagined) indisposition, she escaped call-up to work as house-keeper in her own home. This was idyllic in comparison to the lot of many. And now she had a handsome Canadian Airman falling all over her. "Would you like to come and meet mam and dad tomorrow?" she invited. To be continued...
In view of the near-simultaneous deaths of Stu's dad and my own, we've decided to name February as Double Taken, in honour of Spielberg's alien abduction family drama. And boy has that picked up! All the attention now focuses on Ally, who has been with us all along, out of sight, as Miss Lisp, the narrator. This girl is the issue of both Jacob and Jesse's lines, and she kicks serious ass.
Still only nine, Ally can conjure up the dead to chat to their grieving dads. She can "disappear" a roomful of people to prevent them getting shot by the evil Colonel Crawford's mad granddaughter. She can even stop time!! But, sadly, she's unable to disarm a nutty gunman holding her mother, father and others as hostages. Ah well, nobody's perfect. And the plot must go on.
EXTENDED FAMILY DRAMA
Words can't really express my gratitude to so many of you for your kind messages of condolence over the last couple of days. Private discussions are underway with my sister, now my only immediate relative, over the circumstances of our father's death, and the level of urgency there was in contacting me. Thank you all so very much, and I will reply personally to everyone. In "real life", special thanks to Alastair, Nick B, and the ever-reliable Stuart, who is recently-bereaved himself. I am blessed indeed.
Here, now available for the first time anywhere, is the beginning of my story...
My dad was born in 1921 in Nova Scotia, Canada, into a large family - five sisters and a brother. When he was still young the family moved to the USA in search of their fortune, and settled in Buffalo, State of New York, which is where he grew up. Like many young men of his generation, he volunteered to fight in WWII, and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He was stationed at an airbase in the north east of England, from whence lady fortune took him to a dance in Darlington one Saturday night, which was where he met my mother. (b 1924). I sense queens and young women had something of a ball during the war years, as Quentin Crisp so richly describes. By "dance" here I'm describing the smoke-filled dens you'll have seen in the b/w movies. Wall-to-wall uniforms and Bette Davis hair-dos. (Respectively, of course.) "Officers' doormats," my mother used to say to me. "Some of them were nowt but officers' doormats."
Here also you have to appreciate the enormity of the social and genetic effect that that war produced. Never before had so much eager fertility been moved around the globe in such quantity. And my mother and her immediate generation had the awesome task of handling it. Makes yer very eyes water at the thought!
But there was a pecking order, a hierarchy, in which the local boys came nowhere, unfortunately. The real prize, glittering in its (often eventually tarnished) promise, was a ring on the finger from a "Yank", an "Aussie", or a Canadian. (Don't think there was a nickname for that latter.)
How come? Because that was a girl's ticket out of the hell which was wartime England - particularly the already-depressed NE, which offered little more than subsistence wages and your husband's early death from coal-related disease in the mines.
My mother was sitting at a table beside the dance-floor, with her friend Celia Newton. Mam had only decided to go along at the last minute, for a reason I forget. "See that Canadian over there, sitting on his own?" Celia nudged mam. "He keeps looking over here..." To be continued.
I found out last night that my father has died. The news came at tea-time, on a large picture postcard from my sister. (I never open letters, you see. Well hardly ever.) Died earlier this month. Two days before my friend Stuart's dad. And I'd been counselling him - so gaily unaware. Ah well. They say you never know what's ahead - but this must be a rare case of not even knowing what's behind.
The funeral was a fortnight ago, so it's not too hard to see who was absent. But to be honest, it's maybe for the best. Funerals make you worse. All that fake sadness from a dude who'd never clapped eyes on him when he was alive. Doggerel and dog-collar. And that'll be a hundred pounds, please. Visa or Switch will do nicely.
Do you know, I'm 56 years old, and I've never seen a person die? Never held hands, never talked in what you both know are the closing hours. All of them (well, three of significance) have been afterwards... the phone call out of the blue, the pretty postcard on the mat amongst the bills. It's over. And you weren't there.
Nuclear family. Drift to the city. Must get prosperous. No jobs in this place. Young mother going mental trying to cope single-handed with a baby, while her own mother sits in another town - with time, time time... time on her hands.
Still quite numb, me. That's why I'm sitting here, writing to you, a comparative stranger. Even though I've had seven years to prepare for this, it still fair knocks the wind out of you. How much more alone can (or should) a person strive to be? To retreat tortoise-like within the shell, rather than poke out your head and savour the full vision of life?
I've written often in these transient pages about lack of success in "partnerships", as they're called these days. Hopeless. All that emotion, addiction, jealousy, mind-melding, dependence. But that's not unique. Spinster of this parish. How few are there though who can't even cope with their "real" family?
Mine isn't a life, it's a mere existence - a travesty waiting impatiently to end. And do you know, I sense my dad's was much the same. Like poles repel. But I do think he loved me a little bit, sometimes. And those are the parts I'm trying not to think of today.
Thank you if you've read this far, and I hope it hasn't upset you. More might come. Or of course, might not.