Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Conversation Overheard…

It’s that great device used in so much fiction, the overheard conversation. It usually takes place in a public place, often on a train, were one character listens in to the conversation of two others, this conversation gives away details or facts that set the plot in motion.

The other literary story is that a writer overhears a conversation, usually in a public place, and that sets their mind off on a tangent to create an idea for a piece of writing. In the Agatha Christie novel Third Girl, Mrs Ariadne Oliver (A crime writer, who many believe was based on Christie herself) tells a story of overhearing another woman on the bus. This sets her imagination off and she creates a whole character and plot around this woman.

Today, Martin and I went shopping in the West End of London. On the tube there and back, and as we wondered around the shops, I overheard many conversations but none of them had fascinating tips of information or set my mind off on any creative tangents. There were parents with their pretentious children, lost tourists, complaining shoppers, elderly women more interested in the company of their friends than anything else, teenage boys showing off to their mates like strutting peacocks and a young woman who could have moved to Greece if she didn’t have so much “stuff”.

Today was not one of those days when my imagination runs wild, not a typical day then, but I have enough writing ideas and projects on the go already so I am not too worried.

Drew.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Another Thought for Today

Today saw the first time a Pope gave a broadcast on BBC Radio. Pope Benedict's Christmas message for the UK was broadcast as the Thought For The Day on Radio 4's Today program, the God-slot on an otherwise very secular news and current affairs program.

After listening to his broadcast, all I can say was that it was very dull.

It was the kind of Christmas homily I heard as I child at church, over thirty years ago. It was dull, uninteresting and uninspiring. Rather than making me angry, as so many of his pronouncements before have done, it almost made me fall asleep, it was so flat and lifeless. There was no reference to the world today, the only modern reference was to his visit here in September, it was exactly like the Christmas addresses I heard thirty years ago.

I am now convinced that Pop Benedict is completely out of touch with the real world. If this is the best he can do, with such a prominent platform, then he’s of no relevance to us.

The most important question is why did the BBC give the Pope such an unopposed opportunity to preach at us (even if he failed at it)? Yet again, the BBC gives the Catholic Church biased coverage. There was no one on the Today program challenging the Pope’s right to be there.

The majority of the time the BBC covers Lesbian and Gay rights they seemed to find some awful religious bigot to pour out homophobia. Would the BBC ever let Peter Thatchell deliver a Thought For The Day?
Drew

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

In The Bleak Mid-Winter...

Snow is here and the country is blanked in white cold. Being British, the country has almost ground to a halt, and parcels aren’t arriving anytime time too.

For me, though, the snow creates a whole different world. It muffles the general sounds of a city, blanketed in snow my home is made strangely quiet. Gone are the normal sounds of the city. It changed the quality of the light and darkness. During the day the sunlight was so much brighter, but it’s once the sun has set that the snow deeply changes the atmosphere.

At dusk the red sunlight is bounced off the snow creating a red/orange glow to everything, as if the whole area is bathed in failing red light, from a dying light source. At night, after the sun has rapidly set, the snow glows blue in the moonlight, giving the view a deeply strange and epithelial feel. At night, I look out at the views, from our house, and almost expect to witness some other-world creature. A hunched over, pale and thin daemon creature tip-toeing across the landscape or jumping from one blue/black shadow to another; or else a translucent ghost drifting across our blue light garden, leaving not a mark on the cold snow.

Yes, my mind is strange. Most people see snow and think, “What a lovely, Christmas Card landscape.” I see the snow, especially at night, and think “This has such a potential for a supernatural theme.”

Drew.

P.S. The picture, at the top of this blog, is of our back garden at dusk, taken by my partner Martin. To see more of his pictures go to: http://martins-day.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Merry Christmas


This is our own Christmas E Card. All the pictures in it were taken by Martin, mostly of our local area but with a few of the park by his office. Some were taken this weekend, of our garden in the snow, but the majority of them are from the snow fall in January.

The music accompanying it is Tori Amos' Snow Angel, another of her beautifully lyrical songs.

Turn your computer's sound on, take a minute to enjoy this animation and a Happy Christmas from Martin and I.

Drew.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Yesterday I Was Nervous

Last month I entered a writing competition, run by The Guardian newspaper, looking for new writers from different minorities. They wanted a short opinion piece and three different articles pitches. I sent off my entry and then tried to forget about it.

Recently, I’ve been sending off a lot of my writing to different publishers and magazines and, most of the time, it has been that form rejection letter; so I have been trying not to get my hopes up because that way disappointment is.

Imagine my surprise and then excitement when, just over two weeks ago, I received an email from The Guardian telling me I was one of the winners of their competition, and was invited to their new writers’ workshop. I was shocked and excited together, part of the workshop involved pitching my article ideas to the different section editors at The Guardian.

Yesterday was the workshop. I got myself ready, got my different pitches and took myself off to The Guardian’s offices, which are now at Kings Cross. Of course, I was so nervous that I left my phone at home and managed to be half an hour early...

It was an amazing experience and I learnt so much from it. All the editors gave us feedback on our pitches. I made copious notes on my pitches; but I also listened closely to other people’s pitches, not to seal their ideas but to learn exactly what The Guardian was looking for in articles, and I did learn that.

Two of my pitches received very positive feedback, along the lines that if I was to send in my pitches they would be very seriously considered. This was the best part of the day, two of my ideas had struck the right note.

At the end of it I discovered that over three hundred people had entered the competition and I had been one of twenty who’d been invited to the workshop. This gave me the simplest and yet greatest boost.

So often I wonder if I’m being realist about writing, or am I just chasing a fantasy, especially when it feels like a constant round of rejections. Then days like yesterday come along and I realise I can do this.

So, watch this space...

Drew

A knock at the Door

I consider myself a sophisticated and metropolitan person, not the type who’s taken in by an easy con-artist. I don’t reply to emails pretending to be a bank and wanting my bank details. But the other week I was nearly caught by a simple con-artist.

In the early afternoon, there was a loud knock on our front door. When I answered it I found two men, dressed as workmen, on the doorstep. They claimed to be from Dyno-Rod and wanted accessed into our garden. They claimed they were working on the drains on the house behind our and they needed access to our drains. When I said there was no manhole in our garden one of them became aggressive, snapping at me that I was lying (!!). Eventually, they seemed to believe me and left.

Five minutes later I received a phone call from a man claiming to be a director of Dyno-Rod. He gave me a long and, with hindsight, well prepared explanation about our drains. He said they had put a camera down our drains and found they were damaged. They needed to put a special machine down our drains to seal any cracks (even though I’d never contacted them or noticed anything wrong with our drains). Then came the sting, they wanted a £5,000 deposit for their machine to repair our drains, a repair I never asked for.

When I said didn’t have that amount of money he became very aggressive, almost shouting at me that I was lying (this should have set off warning bells in my mind but I was too shocked at his demand for the £5,000 to think straight). He kept demanding the money and pushing at me, wanting to know if I had a bank account. Eventually I got him off the line by saying I needed to speak to a friend to borrower the money (not true but he wasn’t being truthful).

Straight away I ran Dyno-Rod’s head office (getting their number off the internet) to find out if that phone call was illegitimate, which of course it wasn’t. They don’t charge deposits for machinery, they only charge the person who calls them in, not a third party, and they didn’t have anyone working in this area. It was a scam.

The woman at Trading Standards, I rang for further advise, said very much the same. She was very concerned that I might have handed over money to those men, fortunately I hadn’t.

When the scammer did ring me back, after the £5,000, I challenged him with everything I’d found out and said I wasn’t giving him a penny. He replied that he’d get the “company accountant” onto me. That was the last I heard from them.

Later, I reported it to the police and they said it was an attempt to con money out of me and they logged it as a crime. Also later, the real director of Dyno-Rod contacted me. He was very angry at what had happened, because those men were damaging the good reputation of his company.

It was after it had all happened that it occurred to me how nearly I was taken in. It was only when the man demanded a £5,000 deposit from me that I got a kick of reality, and that was because I couldn’t afford that type of money.

I didn’t think I would ever be taken in by scams but this caught me so unaware. They called out of the blue and claimed there was something wrong with our drains, I was too shocked to think at first.

It’s a sobering thought.

Drew.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Bye, Bye, The Pope Has Gone Home

The Pope went home yesterday and I, for one, am glad that he has gone. His visit was themed “Heart Speaks Onto Heart”; though I found it more as an old man, who is frighteningly out of touch with the real world, preaching at us in a patronising tone.

Events before his visit showed little sign that we were going to see a “listening” Pope. Only days before his visit, the Pope said gay marriage laws “contribute to the weakening of the principles of natural law” (sic) (http://tinyurl.com/23tph3f). The day before his visit, one of his closest aides, Cardinal Walter Kasper, called Britain a “Third World State” (sic) (http://tinyurl.com/28yuapz).

While he was on our soil, The Pope again attacked Britain’s "aggressive secularism". Yet, this "aggressive secularism" has done far more good then the Catholic Church’s traditional prejudices. It has been "aggressive secularism" that has enshrined many legal protections for minorities in Britain, including protection from discrimination on grounds of religious belief; whereas Christians, at the same time, have been demanding the right to discriminate against whoever they choose. I know which side has given more to our society.

The Pope has expressed his “sorrow” over the abuse of children within the Catholic Church (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11354357), but that’s all. He has not apologised for the systematic cover-up of this abuse (of which he was part when he was a Cardinal), nor has the Catholic Church taken responsibility for this cover-up which lead to many more children being abused. Add to this that the Vatican holds secret records on their paedophile priests and refuses to release them to the authorities. Also, The Pope said the victims of this abuse should be given emotional and spiritual help, though he offered no resources from the church to do this. The Catholic Church is obscenely rich, they could easily spare the resources to do this but again they remain silent.

This visit was supposed to encourage us all to turn back to “traditional” Catholic believes, but a YouGov poll has found that British Catholics don’t even believe the Pope teachings. Only 11 per cent believed gay sex was morally wrong, while 41 per cent said that both straight and gay relationships should be celebrated, the poll found. Seventy-one per cent thought contraception should be used more to prevent pregnancy and STDs (http://tinyurl.com/38f9mc9). So what was the Pope hoping to achieve, or does he ever stop and ask real people what they think? I very much doubt it.

Well, The Pope is gone and we (The British public) are left to pay for this four day circus. This Papal visit did little to help us here in Britain, he certainly offered no help with all the problems facing us as a nation, yet the country will have to pay over twenty million pounds for having him on our soil for four days (!!). Next time he can pay in full if he wants to visit Britain, or else stay at home...



Drew.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Rain and Bad Religion

It is no secret that I am not a fan of the Catholic Church, their treatment of human rights turns my stomach. I have blogged many times about the ways they treat people. Like many things I feel strongly about, my feelings have overflowed into my writing.

Penance on a Wet Thursday Morning is a short story of mine that deals with a woman’s grief over the cot death of her infant child, but her Catholic faith offers her no comfort. It is another one of my dark and downbeat stories, but telling a tale I feel very strongly about.

Hard-line religion screws up so many different people. As a gay man, I’ve seen the damage done to people by religion just because of their sexuality. But religion screws up people in many different ways. The Catholic Church’s treatment of women’s reproductive health is one of their great shames, their opposition to contraception and condom usage is both crazy and oppressive. The damage and poverty caused by this stance is one of the Catholic Church’s many sins against humanity.

Penance on a Wet Thursday Morning has been published as a featured story on the Author-Exchange website, it can be found here: http://www.author-exchange.com/blog/archives/360. If you read it please leave a comment here or on the Author-Exchange website. I always value any feedback.

Drew.

The Manchester of the North

Last week we went on holiday to Manchester (The exchange rate being a victim of the Credit Crunch we decided not to go abroad this year). It’s a city we’ve visited before, it’s also a city that I grow up near to. Over the years, though, it’s a city that has meant different things to me.

As a child Manchester was a student town to me, because my brother went to university there. All I knew of the city was the route along the Mancunian Way (The elevated road that runs along the south of the city) to the university and the block of flats that was the student accommodation. The rest of the city was a mystery, we only went there is see my brother. Those visits were special to me because, as a six and seven year old, riding the Mancunian Way was so different, nowhere we went to had roads that were elevated, it was like the freeways I saw on American TV shows.

After my brother left university we rarely went back to Manchester, my mother didn’t like the shops there and that was the main reason to visit any place for my parents. My mother had a belief that the quality of something automatically went up if it was bought in an open air market. The few times, as a child, I did go to Manchester all I remember is the tall and dirty concrete buildings there.

Coming out as a teenager in Liverpool, the 1980’s, Manchester seemed like a gay paradise. It had a wide selection of gay bars and clubs, it had its own lesbian and gay centre, and there were even lesbian and gay shops. It made Liverpool’s tiny amount of gay resources seem even more pitiful. The only problem was that I had no transport, replying on public transport and trying to enjoy gay night life wasn’t always easy, the rush back to the station for the last train.

When I left home and moved to London I almost forgot about Manchester, London offered all I wanted. Then, in 1999, Channel 4 aired Queer as Folk, set around Manchester’s gay village on Canal Street. This opened my eyes to a lot of the changes Manchester has undergone over the years, and it reminded me what Manchester had once been to me. That was the year we had our first holiday in Manchester.

For us, it is the perfect place for a holiday. There’s culture, there’s shopping, there’s so many places to eat we were swamped for choice, easy public transport links, and more on top.

Over the years this city has changed so much for me, or is that I’ve changed? I think it’s something of both. Places do change but what we want from a place changes too.

Drew

P.S. The pictures illustrating this blog were taken by my partner Martin, while we were in Manchester. More of them can be found at his blog, http://martins-day.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 5 September 2010

I Am Not Alone

It’s no secret that I don’t want The Pope visiting Britain, later this month, but I especially don’t want taxpayers having to pay for it. The costs for it are estimated to be £12 million pounds and could be much more. Surprise, I’m not alone in feeling this.


A poll, published by the think tank Theos, found that 77% of Britons think taxpayers should not help pay for Pope Benedict’s visit. They also found 79% had "no personal interest" in his visit (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11180862). Add to this that there are people calling for The Pope to be arrested for his part in the cover-up of the child abuse by Catholic Priests and this could be the most unpopular visit by any religious leader.


What is the Catholic Church doing about this? What are they doing to relieve people’s genuine concerns? Answer, nothing.


Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has said it is “right” that UK taxpayers should pay for the Pope's visit (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11191386). This is after one of his aides called Britain a "selfish, hedonistic wasteland". The Archbishop distanced himself from the remarks but I’m sure we won’t be hearing that the aide has resigned or been sacked, any time soon.

Why isn’t the Catholic Church trying to engage with people who don’t want The Pope here? Instead they are telling us off and saying they have a “right” for us to fund The Pope’s visit. They are so distant, talking down to us as if they are still feudal lords telling us want to think.

I am sure when The Pope is here he will lecture us, at least once, about how “Godless” and “heathen” we are. I am certain he will make negative and even homophobic references to British gay rights legalisation (especially The Equality Bill and Civil Partnerships); this is the man who said that homosexuality is a worse threat then Global Warming (Sic...). I don’t want my taxes going towards paying for this charmless hypocrite to do so.

I don’t want The Pope visiting Britain until he has proven he is worthy to be visiting us, and I don’t want to have to pay for it. But the Catholic Church isn’t listening to me, they don’t seem to be listening to anyone but themselves...

Drew

Into The Woods (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)

Fairy Tales aren’t easy.


Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale musical, Into The Woods, has a simple premise. A childless baker and his wife must lift a curse that has left them barren. To do so they have to go into the mysteries woods and bring back, for the witch who cursed them, a cap as red as blood, a cow as white as milk, a slipper as pure as silver and hair as yellow as corn (Little red Riding Hood’s cap, Jack of Jack and The Bean Stick’s cow, Cinderella’s slipper and Rapunzel’s hair). So the baker and his wife go into the woods and mix up everyone’s stories.

 
By the end of the first act all their stories are neatly tidied up, they all have what they want (Cinderella and Rapunzel have their princes, Red Riding Hood has her wolf skin coat, Jack is rich, and the baker and his wife have their child) and they all live happily ever after. The second act deals with the consequences of the characters’ action. To get what they want each character has to do something dishonest or corrupt (not doing what they’re told, pretending to be something they’re not, deliberately lied or stole) and now their actions have come back to them. There’s a giant loose in the kingdom intent on revenge and characters are rapidly being killed, not all by the giant. Eventually, the survivors band together to defeat the giant, but even then things aren’t returned to normal. The survivors return to a shattered world.


The themes of this musical very much reflect the time it was written in, the 1980’s, a critique of the yuppie greed principal, the end justifies the means (Only recently, we saw this with the banking boom that lead to the credit crunch). Here that greed has its consequences. Many people have expressed their disappointment with the second act, they liked the interwoven plots and tidy ending of the first act; they don’t like the chaos and death (many of the musicals popular characters being killed off) plus the downbeat ending. To me, though, the musical would be incomplete without this ending. The first act has set-up the different acts of dishonesty practiced by the characters, the second act shows the very messy consequences of these acts – for every boom there always comes a bust. In the world of fairy tales, and drama as a whole, actions always lead to consequences, to leave this out would led to an ultimately unsatisfying story.


Into The Woods contains examples of some of Sondheim’s best song writing. Here are songs that full of irony (“Agony” and it’s reprise), songs that mine deep emotions (“Our Little World”) and even songs with tunes that refuse to leave your head (The title “Into The Woods”), yet all of them come very much out of the characters. These songs, if performed out of the context of the musical’s plot, loose so much. The song “Hello Little Girl”, song by the wolf as he stalks Little Red Riding Hood, has more menace, sexuality and plot then the whole of damn Twilight series (!!).


This year is Stephen Sondheim’s eightieth birthday and this production is a fine present for him. Both musically and technically this production lives up to the promise of the material. The acting, though larger-than-life as the writing demands, was the perfect pitch, mixing broad comedy with pathos that gripes at the emotions; also there wasn’t bum note song here (so often actors are shoe-horned into a musical for their fame or looks, then their singing voices are poor at best). Out of a company of strong performances those of Hannah Waddingham (as The Witch) and Jenna Russell (as The Baker’s Wife) stand out. Hannah Waddingham plays The Witch as two different characters, a waddling gargoyle before her transformation, and as a strutting vamp who speaks the unacceptable home-truths as the post transformation character. Jenna Russell makes The Baker’s Wife the emotional heart of the piece. In the first act she’s the one pushing her husband forward to get what they want, to make their moral compromises, to lift their curse. In the second act, she’s the first to realise the threat the giant poses.


The costumes have a very stylised 1950’s feel, tailored tweed jackets and pinched waist dresses, which gives the impression of a children’s story illustration from the time – ideal for the style of this musical. The set is simple, if not basic, consisting of different platforms and walkways; but it was the setting of the theatre that made the perfect setting for this musical. The Open Air Theatre is housed in Regent’s Park and surrounded by tall trees, these trees form the perfect back-drop to Into The Woods. The set merges with these trees, Rapunzel’s tower actually being placed in one of them.


As a child I always found the endings of fairy stories strange, the idea of “they all lived happily ever after”. I wanted to know anyone could manage that. I once got into trouble, in Junior School, for asking this. When I first Into The Woods, back in 1990, I found it met that childhood need in me... Since then, it has remained of my favourite musicals.


Drew.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

“The devil made me do it.”

My feelings for the Christian Church aren’t a secret or positive thing (Just check out some of my previous blog entries), so it won’t come as a surprise that I’ve had a short story published about the uneasy relationship between sexuality and Christianity.

The Devil To Blame (http://tinyurl.com/2bs5awu) is about a young gay man who’s caught, mid-love-making, with his boyfriend by the pastor of his church. That said don’t expect the usual “Nasty Christian” and “Poor, Helpless Gay Man” story. This is one of my short stories with my usual jaundiced view of life.

It is published on the Gay Flash Fiction website (http://www.gayflashfiction.com/), one of the several stories of mine to appear there, and I’m so happy about that. They “get” my writing and I’ve only had positive experiences working with their editors. So many other publications want you to have jumped through many hoops before they’ll even look at your work, that it’s such a pleasure working with a publication that actually wants to get the best out of your writing.

Do let me know what you feel about this story, I value any feedback.

Drew

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

It Was Twenty (Plus) Years Ago Today.


It’s no secret that I don’t have a very high opinion of Christianity, I’ve seen so many sins and evils committed in the name of Christianity, so much prejudice excused as Christian belief; yet there are still many good people who are Christians, unfortunately their voices are often drowned out by the bigotry. On Monday, some of those good people made their voices heard.

Peter Tatchell, veteran gay rights campaigner, spoke at the Greenbelt Christian festival, held each year at Cheltenham Racecourse. He spoke about "queer freedom in Africa”, especially the homophobia of some church leaders there. At the end of his talk he received a standing ovation (http://tinyurl.com/333h9jx).

In my early twenties, over twenty years ago (!!), I went to the Greenbelt Festival, but I found it a very different place. Any mention of homosexuality, and most times there wasn’t any, was the “traditional” negative line. I attended one seminar called “Sad To Be Gay” (sic), which draw the conclusion that any expression of a gay sexuality was a sin.

Things have certainly changed since I was last at Greenbelt, there are Christians out there who aren’t toeing the “party-line” of the Church’s homophobia. Unfortunately, the homophobic ones are still shrilly vocal. Lisa Nolland, on the Anglican Mainstream website, back in April, called for Christians to boycott Greenbelt just because Peter Tatchell would be speaking there (http://tinyurl.com/39sco9y). She said it wouldn’t be a safe place for children, again linking homosexuality and pedophilia – that old and nasty lie.

Some Christians are moving away from the Church’s homophobia, and that should be applauded, but there’s still a very long way to go…

Drew.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Sins of the Catholic Church, No 4,782


In July 1972 an IRA bomb went off in Claudy, County Londonderry, killing nine people, three of them children. Today a report was published that the IRA leader responsible for this bombing was Fr James Chesney, a Catholic Priest, but he was never prosecuted (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11061296). After a secret meeting between then Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw and the leader of Ireland's Catholics, Cardinal Conway, the Catholic Church and the British Government struck a deal whereby Fr Chesney was moved to a parish in the Republic of Ireland, were the North Ireland police couldn’t reach him. Fr Chesney died in 1980.

Yet again the Catholic Church has covered up the crimes of one of their priests, this time in collusion with the British Government. They have done this countless of times before, especially in the cases of child abusive, showing little or no regard for justice. This time the priest was a murderer and they still moved him out of reach of the police. How can the Catholic Church claim to be a Christian organisation when they act so immorally?

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, said the church was not involved in a cover-up over Fr Chesney. How can we believe this when they were the ones who moved Fr Chesney to the Republic of Ireland where he was out of the reach of the police and didn’t once hand him over to the police for questioning. The argument has been made that the police couldn’t have arrested a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland, in 1972, because it would have just fanned the flames of the sectarian violence; but the church could have excommunication Fr Chesney, the present Pope, in his previous role, excommunicated people for far less. The Catholic Church’s hands are red with this cover-up, just as much as William Whitelaw and the Tory government of 1972.

The Catholic Church isn’t just morally bankrupt but willingly corrupt. They have routinely covered up child abusive for decades upon decades, now we find out that they have also covered up a terrorist and murdering priest. What depths won’t they go to? Can anyone answer this?

Later this year the Pope will be visiting Britain and we’ll have to pay twenty million pounds plus for the privilege. I no longer want the Pope to pay ALL the expenses of his visit; I DON’T want him visiting here at all. If I had my way the whole organisation would be disbanded and their great wealth given to the poor and disadvantaged, given to all the people the Catholic Church has harmed or lied about.

I don’t know if there is anything the Catholic Church can begin to do to make amends for its sins, but they don’t seem at all interesting in doing so...

Drew

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Look At All the People Looking All The Same

Last Sunday, Martin and I went to Three Mills Island, just up the road from us at Bromley-By-Bow. We went there so Martin could take some photographs (One of them illustrates this blog). It’s one of our interesting local places.

When we arrived there we found that it was already full of people and, without even hearing them speak, I knew they were from a coach party. Just by their appearance, they screamed that they were on a coach trip. They were “sensibility dressed”, laced up shoes, casual trousers and anoraks (the women as well); were sat together in couples and small groups; eating their packed lunches and drinking from thermos flasks.


As we wondered around, Martin taking his usual hundreds of photographs, I watched those people from the coach party (and they were a coach party because their coach turned up and in an orderly line they boarded it). They were so obviously alike, as if they had to look and behave this way to be accepted on the coach trip. Which made me think about how we want to belong to a group or crowd, and so often we do that by the way we look and dress. The first time I went to Lakeside Shopping Mall I was shocked by how alike almost everyone there looked. When we’re in any shopping mall I often watch the people around me and how alike those groups are, especially the teenagers. The groups of boys all wearing the same tops and trousers, with the same hair cut. The groups of girls with the same hairstyle and make-up, all of them in the same lengthen of skirt.

I know, as human beings, we want to belong, and often we do this through the way we look and act. When I was coming out and trying to build my own identity that was important to me, I wanted to belong with the gay men I saw in the clubs. It took me a few years to realise I didn’t belong with that group, the gay men out on the gay scene. The first thing I did when I realised this was to grow my hair out long. Strangely that did make me more attractive to other men, but gay men I meet away from the gay scene.

For me being my own person is the most important, and with that I’ve found acceptance in the most interesting and diverse groups.

So what made me have all these strange thoughts on a quiet Sunday afternoon trip out?

At the moment I’m finishing off a short story about identity. A man finds out that he’s actually a human clone, and that knowledge shatters his identity. He thought of himself as an individual, when in truth he is merely one of many copies of another.

With me, life doesn’t just influence my writing but my writing can bleed into my life... what fun...

Drew.


P.S. You can see more of Martin’s pictures from Three Mills Island at: http://martins-day.blogspot.com/2010/08/three-mills-island.html


Friday, 13 August 2010

“Do As I Write and Not As I Do”

I am not a fan of self-help books. In my experience they are far more about the author’s prejudices and political views. They are often based just on the author’s experiences, plus maybe a few of their friends’ too, and are more about that person’s views then a book of practical information. Simply look at the shelves full of them at any bookshop; also take a look at their authors’ credentials, most of them have no more experience than the majority of the people in the bookshop.

Imagine my reaction when I was asked to review a self-help book by the Nursing Standard, but I have a policy to never turn down writing. I’ve a good relationship with them and I owe them a lot, so if they asked me to review a telephone book then I would.

Fortunately, the book (Living Confidently with HIV) is the exception and not the rule. It is a self-book written by healthcare professionals and is based on their professional experience. This book stands head-and-shoulders above the herd of the rest, so writing the review was fairly easy. The hardest reviews are those for the books that are poor or just plain bad, because those have to be written in a non-petty tone, even if I just want to through the book out of the window because it’s so bad.

The review was published in this week’s copy of Nursing Standard. If you want to read the review you can find it on my website (http://www.drew-payne.co.uk/index_files/Page1419.htm)

Drew.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

All Things Remembered

Recently I visited St Leonards’ Hospital, in Hackney, East London. I was there to run Infection Control Update sessions, but I had time to look around of the hospital – also called trying to find the restaurant to get some lunch. It was a wonderful old Victorian hospital, though completely impartial for modern healthcare, which is now used for old-patient care and houses a community trust’s administration.

In one of the hallways were two, very large plaques commemorating two of the hospital’s famous employees, Dr James Parkinson and Matron Edith Cavell. Both of them are famous for very specific things, yet the important things they should be remembered for have been almost forgotten.

James Parkinson gave his name to Parkinson’s disease. In 1817 he published the paper An essay on the shaking palsy, which described the first cases of Parkinson’s disease. Edith Cavell was a nurse in Brussels during the First World War, she helped British soldiers escape German occupied Belgian and back to Britain; the Germans caught her and executed her for treason. She became a cause-celeb and was turned into a “heroine” for British patriotism.

Yet, both of them introduced very important innovations and changes that have had a positive impact on modern healthcare, but that part of their lives has seemed to be completely forgotten about now.

James Parkinson was the first doctor to isolate infectious, or “fever”, patients on a separate ward at St Leonards’ Hospital. This was the forerunner of modern isolation procedures, it was the first time measures were taken to stop cross infection from infectious to non-infectious patients. This has saved the lives of millions of people over the years (regardless of the stories in our media).

Edith Cavell introduced and championed nurse education. Originally, Florence Nightingale was against educating nurses, she said that women’s natural “aptitudes” were all that was needed to be a nurse (sic). How wrong she was. Educated and professional nurses have saved millions of people’s lives over the years.

It’s strange what people are remembered for and what parts of their lives are forgotten about after their deaths. Sometimes history whitewashes people and other times all it focuses on are the scandals of someone’s life. Why did history ignore such important elements of James Parkinson and Edith Cavell’s lives?

This led me to wonder what I would be remembered for (Such happy and positive thoughts I have...). Would it be my writing? Would it be my friendships and my relationship with Martin? Would it be my professional career? Will I be remembered at all? I’ll never know and that’s a good thing. But it has got me thinking, how people are remembered and why.

Watch my writing; you may see more about this later.

Drew

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

That Once A Year Day


Last Saturday was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride March, that annual event went the queers take to the streets of Central London.

I’ve been going to the Pride March ever since I could (I moved to London two months after the 1987 March and so had to wait nearly a year to go one my first one). Back in 1988 it was a very different event. To start with it was a much smaller march (Saturday saw over a million people in London for Pride) but also it much more political tone, people chanting and a lot more banners with slogans on them. The route was lined with police, many of them looking decidedly nervous. But this was 1988 and it was a very different time, the Government was opening using homophobic rhetoric and the press was rabidly homophobic.

Saturday’s march was very different; it was much more celebratory then political, though it was far from apolitical. There were more police march at Pride then lining the route, there were also Soldiers, Sailors, Air Force Personal, Firemen, Paramedics and Healthcare Staff all on the march (many of them in uniform). There was also far more people dressed in costumes on Saturday. Back in 1988 the people who were dressed up were either drag queens or leather daddies, there weren’t any women in costumes. On Saturday there seemed to be just women dressed up in different and elaborate costumes as there were men.

Things have very much changed over the years, now the celebrities and politicians are lining up to take part in Pride rather than running away from it. Many people complain that Pride is the same as it was, often complaining that it isn’t political anymore. To me, things do change, they can’t stay the same, and the changes in Pride are a good thing. Britain isn’t the same country as it was back in 1988, we have won so many changes and rights and that’s something we should celebrate at Pride. Yes, we still have a way to go but we’re not living in cold climate of homophobia we once were.

Pride has always been something important in my life, something I couldn’t miss it each year, it was a place where I could be openly gay and be in the majority, where my sexuality wasn’t an issue, where I could be surrounded by other lesbians and Gay Men. But, for many years there was also a tinge of unhappiness for me at Pride. I was single and all around me were happy gay couples all holding hands together, it just a re-minded me of how much I wanted a lover. Now, and for over the last twelve years, I’ve shared Pride with Martin. I don’t want to be one of those people who ram their relationship down other people’s throats, but sharing Pride with Martin is should a wonderful thing.

Drew.

P.S. The pictures illustrating this blog entry are just some of the pictures Martin took at this year’s Pride. More of them can be seen on his blog, http://martins-day.blogspot.com/


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Canary

(The second play what we saw on our holiday)

'Women and gay people are the litmus test of whether a society is democratic and respecting human rights. We are the canaries in the mine.'
Peter Tatchell.

This quote, we’re told in the play’s notes, was part of the inspiration behind Jonathan Harvey’s latest play, Canary. The quote might seem a little naive but look closely at it and there’s a lot of true in it, it’s certainly a mark of a society in how it treats its minorities – any society can value the majority – and gay men, lesbians and woman have been politically and economically marginalised in British culture for centuries.

Previously, Jonathan Harvey’s plays have been very personal and domestic dramas, which focus on the lives of a small group of people over a certain period of time (His break through play Beautiful Things is a very good example of this). With Canary, Jonathan Harvey has moved onto much bigger subject matter, and he certainly rises to the occasion.

This is an epic play, its story spans from the police witch hunts of gay men in the early sixties, through aversion therapy of the mid-sixties, to the Gay Liberation front of the nineteen-seventies, through the AIDS crisis of the nineteen-eighties, and the moral backlash that went with it, right up to the present day, with an openly gay man presenting a primetime television program. The play, though, isn’t as neatly laid out as this description. The play jumps from different stories and different time periods, stories running at the same time, but it does all come together.

The play follows Tom, a policeman in the early sixties and a Chief Constable in the present day, and the relationships in his life. In present day Tom, his wife and daughter are besieged in their home by the press because someone has leaked a secret about him. In the nineteen-sixties young Tom and his lover Billy are caught by the police. Billy is sent to a mental hospital for aversion therapy to “cure” him. In the nineteen-seventies Mary Whitehouse plans her Festival of Light to reclaim the country from promiscuity. In the nineteen-eighties teenagers and best friends Russell and Mickey move to London but they get swept in the emerging AIDS crisis.

This isn’t an easy story to follow (As I saw after the performance by other people in the audience who obviously hadn’t followed the plot and were left confused), this isn’t a play just to sit back in and let it flow over yourself, you have to pay attention to the plot. The play goes from high comedy (the scene were the Gay Liberation Front disrupt the Festival of Light had me crying with laughter), to painful drama, through horror (the nightmare of aversion therapy) and tragedy (AIDS in the 1980’s), to magic realism (were Tom’s wife Ellie goes through her own journey into her past to make sense of her life). But ultimately this is a deeply rewarding play because here Jonathan Harvey explores the human stories and emotional cost of the events of our recent gay history. Unfortunately this history is being forgotten, our British society seems uninterested the experiences of lesbians and gay men, we may have acceptance but who’s interested in our journey here?

The acting here was universally good, the actors investing so much into their characters to make them come alive, even when the character was not likeable or only in one scene. Paula Wilcox and Sean Gallagher turn in their usual fine performances (I often wonder why these are two aren’t much bigger stars, they give such good performances) but the acting awards here must go to Philip Voss. His performance as older Tom was both cold and reserved but also warmly touching, his reconciliation with his former lover Billy after nearly forty years was almost heart breaking; but his impersonation of Mary Whitehouse made me week with laughter. He played her as a monster in a nylon dress with no understanding of how ridiculous she sounded.

This isn’t an easy, little drama but a bold and broad one, but it is well worth the effort of following its story. Jonathan Harvey here puts on stage stories that are rapidly being forgotten about in our society, stories that have shaped so much of what it means to be a gay man in 2010, stories we need to talk about. This play has been compared to Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, it is certainly in the same epic and political vein, and that’s no bad thing.

Please Jonathan Harvey, more plays like Canary.

Drew.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Holding the Man

(We were on annual leave last week so we took advantage of that to go to the theatre, here’s the first play what we saw...)

Theatrical adaptations of books can be a very hit and miss thing, often more miss then hit. Holding the Man is adapted from the autobiography by Timothy Conigrave, it spanned the nineteen-seventies to the early nineteen-nineties and is a love letter to his partner John. This is story is so broad that it could easily have got lost on stage or else been a stilted and halting journey, with huge jumps between scenes. Instead, Tommy Murphy (the play’s adaptor) has chosen a highly theatrical style to tell this story and here it works.

The central characters of Tim and John are played by two actors while four other actors play the dozens of other supporting characters in this story. There are some lightening fast costume changes, sometimes an actor changes character by quickly changing wig onstage. This could be clich├ęd, just another fringe play produced with all the corners cut, but the style of those four actors overcomes this, they work hard to make each character separate, even the ones only seen in one scene.

In the mid-seventies, at an all-boys Catholic school in Melbourne, Australia, Tim meets John and fell head-over-heels in love with him; but John’s the captain of the football team. Then one evening they share a kiss, soon to fall into the heady nature of teenage relationships; but their relationship lasts, a strong cord always pulling them back to each other. They survive parental disapproval, university, trial separation, seeing others, and the explosion of gay life in the late seventies; but it is AIDS that finally pulls them apart. In the nineteen-eighties both Tim and John were diagnosed HIV positive, but it was to be John who died first from AIDS (Tim finished his memoir only weeks before he himself died).

This isn’t a fantasy of the ideal gay relationship, Tim and John’s relationship is all too real. They are both individuals, John wanting the quiet life with his lover and a home; while Tim explores self expression, first as an actor and then a writer, but also as a gay man. At university he discovered Gay Liberation, after that he took every opportunity to explore his sexuality, which leads him to cheat on Tim many times. On paper they would never have been lovers, but in real life their deep love for each other keeps drawing them back together and keeps them forgiving each other.

As Tim and John, respectively, Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes originated the roles in the original Australian production of Holding the Man, and their comfort and familiarity in the roles showed. They had a chemistry in their roles that made Tim and John’s deep love easily believable. Jane Turner (Of Kath and Kim fame) and Simon Burke provided outstanding support in more than a dozen roles each, ranging from both lovers’ parents through doctors to disco queens.

This play almost has the feel of a historical piece, of a history play; events have changed so much since the early nineties. Combined therapy has changed the scene of HIV/AIDS so much, AIDS no longer carries the mark of death it once did. This play is a reminder of the dark days of AIDS, the tragedy that tore apart and cut short so many lives.

The ending of the play could be seen as melodramatic and even sentimental, but it is appropriate for the story. John’s death was slow, painfully slow, and drawn out, the emotions of the characters being dulled by the sheer force of it all. This was how it was so often in life, not a simple and easy goodbye. At the end of the play we are given Tim left alone and broken, he has lost the love of his life and has nowhere to turn.

Recent history seems to get quickly forgotten. This play is a timely reminder of those dark days of the worst of the AIDS crisis, which we should never forget.

Holding the Man
Trafalgar Studios


Drew

Sunday, 16 May 2010

I’m Back Online


For several years I had my own website and then I lost it, because the company I paid to host it went bust but they didn’t tell me. I found out almost by accident, suddenly it was gone. There was nothing I could but start again.

Now, I have a new one, a slightly different domain name, but I have it back online. It can be found at: www.drew-payne.co.uk

My website was and still is a showcase of my writing. There can be found copies of my short stories, but there are also copies of my non-fiction writing (reviews, articles and memoir). I’ve also posted links there to a lot of my writing that has appeared on other websites.

As it says on the front page, why don’t you come and visit my website and waste sometime, life’s too short to rush by...

Drew

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

It’s All Just a Simple Choice...

In 1981 Norman Tebbit (The former Conservative MP and then Employment Secretary) said that unemployed people should get on their bikes and go and find work. At the time my parents agreed with him, but my family hadn’t experienced unemployment. My brother and sister both had jobs and I was still at school. When I did leave school, three years later, unemployment was even worse and I had no chance of finding a job. I had no experience and only a handful of qualifications, employers weren’t interested in me and the tiny amount of benefit money I got meant I couldn’t travel to look for work.

Seeing, first hand, my experience of unemployment changed my parents’ attitudes – there was no more talk of “getting on your bike”. It especially opened my mother’s eye.

My own political views have always been shaped by my experiences, as a nurse, as a gay man, as a lapsed Christian, my childhood, the places I’ve lived in and the people I know and have known. I have a deep desire for social justice – I’ve always been a dreamer.

Then they called a general election. I’d lost interest in it even before all the campaigning had started. There was only one choice, did you want Gordon brown or David Cameron as Prime Minister, because their policies are almost identical and neither of them is a great leader (and I had such high hopes for Gordon Brown, well I was wrong there). Then we had the first election debate, on television. At the time I dismissed it as another example of British politics turning into the American version, I didn’t watch it. The day after it everything changed. Nick Clegg had shined in the debate and suddenly it was a three horse race, and my interest jumped up.

We may be looking at a hung Parliament, and the Labour/Conservative politicians and the Tory press are screaming blue murder about this (listening to them you’d think it would be the end of our country), and I think that would be a good idea. With a hung Parliament, whoever forms the government will have to discuss and make deals with the other parties, they wouldn’t be able just push through their policies by the force of their majority, we may finally get back to political debate in Parliament.

Tomorrow should be very interesting...

Drew.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Step Back and See the Full Picture


This weekend saw Spencer Tunick, the New York-based photographer known for taking pictures of hundreds of nude people in different locations, at work in Manchester and Salford. He photographed of a thousand nude volunteers in six different locations to reflect the work of artist LS Lowry, for an exhibition at The Lowry gallery (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/8655680.stm).

This might not sound too unusual, now, because Spencer Tunick is known for this type of photograph; but it should be remembered that all those naked volunteers were British people, not porn star or models but ordinary members of the British public. We British have a reputation for being reserved, “No sex please, we’re British” and “We don’t do that, we’re British”; but this photo-shoot certainly disproves that. Anyone who’s been in British city centre on a Friday or Saturday night will testify to that.

Yet too quickly we fall back into those racial and cultural stereotypes, the reserved Englishman, the loud and brash American, the sex mad French woman, the humourless and ordered German, etc...

As a writer, I’m very aware of the danger of falling into the trap of these stereotypes, they can be lazy and patronising to readers. But, like everyone else, I have my own personal prejudices and so easily they can come out in my writing. I’m always trying to keep an eye open for them. One very relevant trap for me is the nasty Christian character. I can often be tempted to pour all the failings and prejudices of the Christian Church into one character, I have to very careful.

This short story of mine, Praying in the Stock Cupboard, I hope doesn’t fall into that trap. The Christian character might not be the most lovable, she’s really quite a pathetic creature, but not the all consuming monster either. The story can be found at: http://www.gayflashfiction.com/Story_Archive/Praying.html


Happy reading.

Drew.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

A Healthy Read

Some things are worth writing about and some writing can actually make a difference. I’m very proud to say that I regularly write for a publication that does just that. FS Magazine is published by GMFA and is a gay men’s health magazine. It aims to be informative about gay men’s health needs, but not patronizing or talking down.

I’ve been writing articles for FS now for over four years and have loved every moment of it. It has helped my tone my style, I want my writing to be informative but never preachy, and I’ve been able to use a lot of the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired as a nurse. Gay men’s health isn’t just about HIV and AIDS, though that is an important part of it, but covers a wide range of issues, including access to health services and all the other issues that affect the health of men in general – but are rarely targeted at gay men.

Sexual health is a very important issue, from STIs, through gay relationships and sexual activity. So often, these issues are never discussed. Once we’ve come out as gay it seems we have to learn this almost by absorbing it from those around us, or else we didn’t learn them at all. The current gay press doesn’t seem interested in health matters, beyond how to get a six-pack and look like all the other muscle boys. FS is the only publication offering any form of good and reliable health advice.

The best thing is that FS is available free. It’s distributed to gay venues, bars and clubs, gay centres and Sexual Health Clinics around the country, not just in London. You can also download it from: http://www.gmfa.org.uk/national/fs-magazine/index

There’s also a Facebook page for FS, at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/FS-magazine/36574833972?v=wall

Please follow FS, it’s a wonderful publication that really does deserve our support. Also, if you’re so inclined, FS is always looking for models, details in the magazine itself.

Drew.