Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Accidental Tourist

I get a telephone call this afternoon informing me that my visa has come through. My tourist visa. And so my working life in the UK comes to a somewhat abrupt end from today. I was expecting it to come to an end at some point in the next few weeks, but I was expecting later rather than sooner. Oh well. Who says the civil service isn't efficient? What happens next is a little up to Dame Fortune and my ability to interview well, but in the meantime I can:
  • Take my first holiday since December/January and my first holiday in several years lasting longer than a week.
  • Explore the delights of Croydyn
  • Catch up on all those galleries and museums that I have yet to get around to seeing...
Well anyway... That's the plan...

Monday, August 29, 2005

News: Notting Hill Carnival

Bank Holiday Monday in August means 500,000 Londoners head to Notting Hill for at street party. There is lots of colour and movement and jerk chicken (if you like your chicken charcoal black) but even better is to be in the vicinity of the carnival where you can hear all the carry on, but not actually have to be amongst it, such as I found myself today. I was the only Australian at the party so I was giving a ribbing about the Ashes and had a can of Fosters thrust in my hand. There really should be some cultural guides written about how much an insult an Australian finds being given a Fosters. It is such a rubbish beer but the chavs in this country can't seem to get enough of it. Along with Nike tops and chunky silver chains it is what you expect to see being carried by any lout in this city...

Scenes from Kew Gardens Sunday 17:23 - Chihuly's glass sculptures among the greenery...

It was here in the the temperate room green house where this photo was taken A saw a man leaning over a pond about to take a photograph. He motioned to push the man in the pond for my amusement but he neglected to see the photographers two friends looking outraged behind. Obviously not Londoners... No sense of humour whatever. But the glass sculptures were very smart... All hand blown as well...

It certainly made the visit to Kew (also known as the Royal Botanic Gardens) all the more interesting. It is such a vast green space that even after two hours one barely covered a kilometre of the site, but how much gardens and green space on a fine sunny day can one take? Interestingly there were a lot of gay men in the gardens. Fortunately unlike many of the parks about town they were there to take in the greenery and the glass... Posted by Picasa

Scenes from G-A-Y at the Astoria Saturday night / Sunday morning 01:50. Trip to Winchester was cut short as there was an Abba night back in London with Bjorn Again. Ok so the music wasn't live (note the absence of leads on the guitar and keyboard) but by 1.30am the punters didn't care and kept singing along to the tunes. Nowadays Bjorn Again have multiple groups touring the country as blonde and brunette singers accompanied by fat men with beards are a dime-a-dozen...

The Astoria is for young boys and their admirers really and is a silly venue, but it is only a five minute walk home so it is rather handy... Posted by Picasa

Scenes from Winchester Saturday 15:52 - Bank Holiday weekend. If you are not travelling somewhere exotic, why not go to Winchester? They have a cathedral, some castle ruins and a flower market where young lads sell flowers...

Winchester also seemed to be a lovely town to go if you were pregnant. There seemed to be pregnant women everywhere... Maybe they are all locals and there is a baby boom on its way... It was interesting to observe all of this. There were also more elderly persons in wheelchairs per able bodied person than I have seen anywhere else of late.

As for the cathedral, it was a bog-standard. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Theatre: Henry IV (Part Two)

After the awful trip to the theatre on Wednesday night I caught Henry IV (Part Two) at the National Theatre Friday evening to make up for it. While the story may be a little plotless the show has a fantastic cast that includes Michael Gambon as Falstaff. It was amazing to watch him, including in the second act when espousing the virtues of sherry he couldn't get the bottle open and made a few ad-libs. The play is definitely one of the highlights of the London theatre scene at the moment so it was good to catch it.

Unfortunately the man sitting next to me had a bit of a bad breath problem. When he laughed a cocktail of saliva, cigarettes and bile wafted over to my seat. Oh well, when the tickets are only £10, these are the things you have to deal with. But it would have been handy to have had some chewing gum on hand to offer around... Or some noseplugs...
Shopping: Those Muscle Fit Polos

A recent doco on the BBC chartered a man's attempt to go straight by hooking up with some evangelical outfit in Memphis. Apparently he found the gay scene a bit to superficial (he obviously had not taken the Eurostar or gone to my gym). In the end it turned out he stopped having sex completely so some conversion that turned out to be...

Anyway the Guardian reported today more about the "going straight" therapy in Memphis, noting that Abercrombie clothing is banned. And who can blame them, as it is very gay. Arriving this week in the mail was several Abercrombie t-shirts and polos I bought online. My flatmate and his houseguest curious about the steady stream of packages arriving during the course of this week asked me to model one of the polos. They were impressed with the cut that accentuates one's v-shape even if one doesn't have much of that shape. And it's that sort of fit that goes down well with the boys...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Scenes from Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Wednesday 20:08 - A delay starting due to wet weather... Those in the know brought garbage bags and towels. Live and learn.

As for the show, well HMS Pinafore in the damp cold night air wasn't the most pleasant of experiences - it seemed less of a production and more of an embalming of G&S.

The last time I saw this show I recalled:
  • It was funny and the actors had comic timing,
  • The orchestrations were better,
  • Buttercup also wasn't played by someone who should be in a retirement home. Ok Lesley Nichol is a wonderful actress but it was just wrong for her to be in this part...
Also of note:
  • Desmond Barritt seemed to have confused the role of Sir Joseph with his role as Vice President Dick Cheney in Stuff Happens at the National - he spent most of the time walking around looking pissed off.
  • The hero (Simon Thomas) has his shirt off at the beginning and mercifully puts it on. Nobody needs to see a pasty white flat chest.
  • Perhaps the damp weather meant there was less dancing and more walking in time with the music...
Oh well... You win some and you lose some. At least the mulled wine at interval warmed things up a little.. If you ask me... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

One houseguest or two

My flatmate R has a friend staying over for the week. He is English but lives in Barcelona as a lifestyle choice. He is a great houseguest however as already it has only been a day and he has cleaned out the cupboards and fixed the blockage in the bathroom sink. If only all houseguests could be so useful...

Anyway, he brought with him some chorizo sausage from Spain which he left hanging in the lounge room. Sunday evening he awoke to hear the sounds of something chomp chomping into his sausage - and not in a good way. Our resident rat had found it and somehow managed to eat half the thing.

Last night as the event was described to me as an unwelcome visitor I was wondering whether it was one of R's gentlemen callers that were quite interested in a bit of Spanish sausage. They have been known to come around for a bite at 3am and again at 5am. But when it was clarified it was a caller of the ratty kind it all made sense. I had thought it had been a case of all quiet on the rodent front for some time but there is nothing like an old building and a bit of sausage to tempt the critters out.
News: The awful truth about the piano man

The piano man mystery has been resolved. This was the man who appeared at a beach in a state of distress and purportedly could play the piano rather well. Well the truth is that he is just a gay German acting a bit odd. Nothing really out of the ordinary there. Even more ordinary was the fact that he actually couldn't play the piano. In fact his performance of chopsticks wasn't that great by all accounts... How he got to be the piano man from chopsticks is anyone's guess, but when you have Bavarians trying to drown themselves you shouldn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Shopping and whatever...

I went shopping with A over the weekend at Zara to buy some trousers. Zara is one of the cheap chic high street stores and Spanish in origin that have smart clothes that you can wear for a season and then throw out. The men's collection is popular with a certain type of male as well (usually a gay one)...

Anyway while I was buying trousers A was trying on a sporty sort of jacket with a furry lining thing that he thought was great but I told him it made him look like Attila the Fashionable Hun. And that ended the shopping experience. Afterall nobody wants to look like a Hun. Even a slightly fashionable one...

Of course the look all summer has been vintage clothing. There are places like Pop and Rockit in London where you can get a pinkish polo shirt (the only colour this summer) with that "worn in" look. You could say the clothes are second hand but vintage sounds so much smarter... But if you don't do second hand many of the leading labels now are taking to tearing the fabric anyway to give them that broken in look... So the message this season has been to keep that cute little outfit in the closet unless you are prepared to rip some holes into it...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Scenes from the Thames outside the Tate Modern Sunday 14:49. Bikes, pedestrians and the rest on a lovely summer day... Posted by Picasa
Art: Frida Kahlo

Finally caught Frida Kahlo's exhibition at the Tate Modern. The large collection of her artworks spanning 11 rooms were quite a sight. There were all her famous works and many self-portraits to take in during the course of a Sunday afternoon. Such an amazing woman who while she painted survived a nasty bus accident, several miscarriages, an affair with Trotsky, a turbulent marriage and the odd bit of lesbianism. Loads of imagery referred to the female form of course. I will never quite look at an open cut cantaloupe in the same way again I think.
Movie: Crash

Saw Crash with A on Friday. It is set in Los Angeles and is about a series of characters whose lives intertwine over a 36 hour period. Race relations (or the lack of them) and the post 9/11 world are at the forefront of this movie. The movie should really have the subtitle "City of Assholes" given all the angst and lack of humanity expressed by most of the characters. Still it was a gripping series of stories that was well acted and raised a few interesting questions, including why the hell would anyone want to live in LA??

It is also not the standard Hollywood blockbuster so be prepared for Matt Dillon looking a bit chubby, Sandra Bullock not airbrushed as much as normal and Brendan Fraser a little bit paler... And the title Crash comes from the series of car accidents that feature in the film. Some are small crashes, others are a little more severe. It dawned on me since being in London I have not driven a car but I dare say that people here don't tailgate so much... And they don't have such rubbish cars either...
Friday Office Banter

Paul: I picked up an Abercrombie t-shirt from the post office today...
F: What's that?
Paul: Its a t-shirt that gay men wear at the gym...
F: Do you really think you need to wear a t-shirt to tell people you're gay?

Scenes from Tottenham Court Road Tube Station Friday 09:54. Northern line southbound Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

  • Latest findings suggests that property websites are helping widen the gap between the haves and have nots. Personally I am fascinated to know that in my postcode there are 14 people claiming benefits and only 1.04% of the UK population live in a dwelling type such as the type that I'm in...
  • Summer means everyone goes to their second property in France (if you have one). If you don't you can head to the seaside, head overseas or just stay in London and work. I am doing the last of these things.
  • In my spare time I have taken to upgrading my gym wardrobe by stocking up on Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts. At my gym it is de-rigeur. But its worth knowing that at my gym there are muscle marys who kiss over the fly machine, bears who pull each others chest hair over the free weights and personal trainers who counsel men who break down in tears over the shoulder press. Even by London standards it isn't a normal gym...

Scenes from dessert Wednesday 23:11 - Well its the height of summer. Not a lot is happening. But the berries are fantastic... Posted by Picasa
News: Ugly man caught on camera

Another ugly Australian appears on television committing a race crime. Where do all these ugly Australians come from? It must be Adelaide...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Scenes from Tottenham Court Road Saturday 13:25. Passing by outside the Heals building... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Movie: The Rising (The Ballad of Mangal Pandey)

A wanted to see this movie and I was a little hesitant about doing so after seeing the movie poster at tube stations all week. It wasn't that the poster artwork was bad. It was that the main star of this movie -Aamir Khan (and who is featured on the poster) - sports a moustache that curls up to the sides in an extravagant in your face facial hair kind of way. By Friday however I had seen some other stills from the film including a wrestling scene between Khan and Toby Stephens so I was happy to see what the fuss was all about then.

The story focuses on the lead up to the first Indian war of independence (or the Sepoy Mutiny as the British East India Company would call it). Being a Bollywood-meets-Hollywood film no serious epic drama is complete with colour and movement and songs and dancing. Plus lots of camerawork to make you dizzy. This pads out the film for at least an extra hour and a half. It was during one of these giddy all colour and singing extravaganzas I wondered if the Bollywood style would have made Attenborough's Gandhi more interesting a film. It probably would have made it twice as long...

This movie wasn't as subtle as Gandhi. History lessons were shoved down your throat and various other bits like the cruelness of the caste system and the suttee were piled on top of that. At least there was every now and then this loving friendship between Officer Gordon (Stephens) and Pandey (Khan) to fall back on. Pandey saved the Officer Gordon's life in Afghanistan at one point so that meant for the rest of the film they would look each other in the eye and not say much, or fall about drunk together, or wrestle. I never thought that life in the East India Company would be so much like life in Soho...

But anyway, A warned me that the mostly south Asian audience would be badly behaved so they lived up to expectations. I wondered whether it was because Bollywood films have long stretches of singing and dancing in between improbably plots so it is quite possible for the audience to tune out and do other things. So they did. They got up out of their seats, they played with their mobile phones, they chatted, and occasionally they watched the movie. In the end most still had a good enough time to applaud and shout "Long live long live mother India" so who can argue with the punters?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Idle Chatter at home this evening

Paul: I am just heading out for a spot of gym
Flatmate: You're heading out for a spot of what?
Paul: Gym.
Flatmate: Oh gym! I thought you said you were heading out for a spot of gin!
Paul: Wouldn't that be a splash of gin?

Keeping fit and smoking

As for gym, six months after joining I think it is paying off as I feel healthier and I can run for long periods without passing out. This must be a good thing. Although I am still not ready to take my shirt off in a dance tent in Brighton.

To help with the whole gym experience I have had Kylie, Madge and Whitney on the iPOD. But I have also supplemented them with old hits from Olivia Newton John, Basement Jaxx and Mariah Carey. Yes Mariah as New York Times said that her song "We belong together" is the song of the summer. So who can argue about that?

Later tonight I returned home to a flat full of cigarette smoke. My flatmate was entertaining a gentleman caller who obviously had a thing for heavy duty tobacco. I didn't see the caller but envisaged that he would be some red-faced leathery looking thing so I figured I didn't need to meet the passing trade. As for the smoke, I shouldn't complain too much about it since I am living with somebody fairly easygoing. No kitchen Nazi, unlike my former housemates in Haringey. When looking for a place I found it worthwhile to discount anybody who introduced the kitchen with a funny accent and adding "And this is how we always keep it... Spotless!"

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

News: The summer tour

It's holiday time here. The weather is great and people are taking time off work. Those who are not taking time off work don't seem to be working much either, but that's another story...

Over in Whitehall while TB is on holiday Deputy PM John Prescott is in charge. Yesterday he gave a family a tour of No 10, and got a blaze of publicity. There are bound to be extra families waiting around the gates of Downing Street today hoping for a repeat performance.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Out and about: Brighton Pride

The biggest of the pride festivals Brighton Pride took place on Saturday. That meant lots of punters took the train from Victoria to Brighton to spend the day (or the weekend) there. I caught a Thameslink train from Kings Cross which wasn't quite a camp express trip that I suspect the express trains from Victoria station were.

But upon arriving at Preston Park the place was heaving. The expected number of people at the day is around 100,000. There are various thoughts as to why Brighton Pride is so successful. These include:
  • It is in Brighton and that means seaside and sun and all that sort of summer stuff. Nothing like a bit of sun to get everyone outside for a tan.
  • Brighton is not too far out of London to take forever to get there. If one oversleeps you still stand a chance of getting there quickly as it only takes a little over an hour by train.
  • Unlike the London version which costs £20+ this one is free and Londoners love a bargain...
Whatever the attraction is, it was a day for putting on your white jeans and your best pink shirt and heading on down there... There were rides (as in funfair type things), market stalls, bars, food and dance tents. There was something for everyone.

One thing there wasn't a lot of was urinals. Most people resorted to the bushes along the edges of the park which meant you had to watch your step in that area... Later that night back in London, you couldn't help but notice how quiet the streets were...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Originally uploaded by Pauly_.

Scenes from Brighton Pride 17:59. Shirts and hair optional. More colour and movement in the hot tent called "Wild Fruit". Very appropriate for some of the punters there... The place was heaving...

Originally uploaded by Pauly_.

Scenes from Brighton Pride Saturday 17:58. In the dance tent it was a bit warmer. Tops were optional. There is nothing like a bit of colour and movement...

Originally uploaded by Pauly_.

Scenes from Brighton Pride Saturday 17:28 - More pants... It wasn't a hot day either...

Originally uploaded by Pauly_.

Scenes from Brighton Pride Saturday 15:47 - When you can't decide what to wear to Pride... Just wear pants. Providing they're Calvins...

Scenes from Balham Tube Station Friday 20:56.

Balham - gateway to the south - does have a few smart restaurants on and around its High Street. Friday night I went with A to Dish Dash, which is a smart Persian restaurant offering delicious meats on sticks among other things. A gay couple sitting next to us and celebrating a birthday offered us cake. It was that sort of night... Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 05, 2005

Overheard at the gym tonight:

Muscle Mary: You know I had no idea that they were living together. No idea. None. None at all. Just no idea!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Scenes from Victoria Tube Wednesday 22:57. Four weeks on from 7/7 some figures:
Concert: Ravi Shankar

A was very impressed that he was adding to my cultural enrichment by getting me a ticket (due to a last-minute cancellation by a relative of his) to see Ravi and Anoushka Shankar in concert at the Proms. It was a wondrous and uplifting evening of musical meditation.

Well for the most part. The first half consisted of a piece by Param Vir Horse Tooth White Rock which sounded interesting in parts but it also had some very loud percussion sections. I had warned A previously that loud percussion can make me jump unexpectedly and this was no exception. It was a pity that I wasn't sitting with A so he didn't see this very undignified jolt. But his relatives who I was sitting with did, and this amused them for the rest of the performance... Well, one can't always be dignified and graceful.

After this loud and noisy piece, Shankar's Sitar Concerto followed. It was a welcome relief and I think most of the audience felt this way... You could feel the audience get more and more excited as Anoushka Shankar played and as the music continued to its finale. And as a piece of programming it was an excellent way to introduce the second half.

After the interval Ravi Shankar came on to play a series of Sandhya (evening) ragas. The sell-out crowd in Albert Hall leapt to their feet as he walked on. The atmosphere was electric. It wasn't just an evening of musical entertainment but so much more. The ragas lasted for a little over an hour and the audience was rapt throughout. The improvisation and techniques were astonishing, the music sublime, and the sensation of the performance unfolding before you was all part of the experience.

Afterwards A whisked me away from Albert Hall. He thought there were far too many South Asian Men in the vicinity for his liking. I don't know where he got the idea that I was some dirty stopout. It may have been those leering references to how friendly the South Asian men are at my local M&S... But I digress... The evening to me seemed a fairly mixed affair. And besides, music as good as this has no boundaries.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Afternoon Banter

A: I have a spare ticket to see Ravi Shankar at the Proms tonight. Are you free to come?
Paul: Sure, I only had my fallback plan of going to the gym. But what will be "the make up" of the audience?
A: Oh it will be a night of a thousand saris. Have you got yours?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Movie: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

After a hectic day in the office I decided to go and see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was playing at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, which is a grand old theatre that is a feature on the high street which has great seats and a good sound system... No trip to Brixton is complete without a visit to the cinema (although try and get to see a film in the main cinema and not in the extended bit)...

As for the movie, I recently had a discussion with a Gene Wilder devotee who was passionately arguing that nobody could come near his comic genius. I thought that was all very well but that first movie had all those dreadful songs and departed from the book in several key places. Besides, I thought Johnny Depp would make this far more interesting and he did by becoming Michael Jackson. There is a scene towards the end where Wonka tries to lure Charlie away from his family into his big glass elevator so they could live together - and alone - which surely could have been lifted straight from a Martin Bashir documentary.

To be fair on the film and not just take the fashionable reading of the day, it was very entertaining. There are a few smart updates to the original story as well (although I am not sure why Mike TeeVee's father replaces his mother... The gender balance seems all wrong there)... Roald Dahl's text remains for the Oompa Loompa songs, and they seem a lot more fun than the last time I recalled them too. All told a not particularly subtle at points (there is this heavy handed aside into Wonkas upbringing), overall it was fun... And cruel... Squirrels attacking a girl from Buckinghamshire is surely something anyone in their right mind will want to pay to see!

Originally uploaded by Pauly_.

Scenes from Soho Pride Sunday 16:55 - Just another excuse to show off some more flesh from Soho Pride really. No other reason...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Crimes and Meat
  • It isn't everyday you have a crime scene out of the window. This morning around 4.30am a group of youths stabbed a boy. The story unfolds but will be front page of the South London Press Tuesday.
  • And Scotch Beef ads are back on TV. They show a very muscular man in a kilt eating a big ol' hunk of beef. I had some last night. Delicious.
Overheard at the Gym Tonight

Man #1: So how much more have you got to do?
Man #2: Well I have to do my abs...
Man #1: Yeah...
Man #2: And I think I might do my obliques...
Man #1: Yeah...
Man #2: And I think I might do some stretches...
Man #1: Uh huh...
Man #2: And then I might do a bit on the treadmill...
Man #1: How about I meet you later?

Scenes from Soho Pride Sunday 19:07 - A few sensible drinks outside Rupert Street... Standing amongst the shaved headed lads... Posted by Picasa

Scenes from Old Compton Street Soho Pride Sunday 17:08. A view from above of the carnival atmosphere... It was also the chance to look down and do some serious people watching... Posted by Picasa

Scenes from Soho Pride Sunday 16:50 at Soho Square. Today the punters came to Soho for a big gay street party. The weather even warmed up enough to make wearing a shirt unfortunately optional for many... Still there were some nice fit people out and about.

Walking home from the theatre on Saturday evening at this same location I saw some gentlemen who had featured in some straight-to-video films that are popular amongst the gay community. They were wearing t-shirts that proclaimed what Eastern European production company they belonged to. A was not familiar with Bel Ami so I had to explain their cultural significance... Posted by Picasa