Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

Currently clicking:
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Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Here We Go Again
A genuine thank-you to all of you who have come, clicked and commented here in the past nine months or so. Believe it or not, it really means a lot to me.

And even more thanks to all of you whose blogs have entertained, provoked, and infuriated me for the last year, as well as those whose weblogs I'm only just discovering. Whether I agree with you or not, I know just how much work is put into them, and, as far as this Stranger is concerned, it is really appreciated. (We're all of us quite brilliantly bonkers, you know, and they probably should set up some sort of home for us.)

Now, just for tonight, grow up and do something useful like pissing off down the pub. Love you loads. My dears.

Have a great New Year's Eve. And a fantastic 2004.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Review Of The Year
In this fed-up, run-down No-Man's Land between Ch**st**s and the New Year, when the Royal Institution Series of Lectures is the only telly worth setting the video for, I tend to go into work.

With hardly anyone in the office, I'm effectively being paid for sauntering in and doing sod-all. Anyway, if I stayed at home, I'd only end up going out every night, having such a cracking time that I'd hate myself in the cold goggle-eyed light of morning. Either that, or I'd be slashing a path, Terminator-style, through Oxford Street bargain-hunters, all of whom are incapable of walking in a straight line, and hurling the dawdlers amongst them right into the path of an oncoming 73 bus.

Having three days of no actual responsibility also means I can turn my mind to completing my annual appraisal form, a task that should have been started in October but isn't even contemplated until the last mince-pie and slurp of sherry have been consumed.

This yearly self-assessment requires me to rate my own performance at work over the past year. Lest any shy and self-effacing employee be stuck for ideas on what to say, there are handy hints on the form to guide you on your way to corporate and personal enlightenment.

The printed advice runs something like this:

"Are you our sort of employee who listens closely and intelligently to others' points of views? Or are you a self-opinionated and individualistic bastard convinced that, if everyone does it the right way (i.e. yours), then they will all save themselves truckloads of trauma, and, even better, you can be home in time for EastEnders?

"Do you have excellent inter-personal skills, standing rounds for your colleagues in the pub after work, thereby establishing a happy and effective group dynamic? Or would you prefer as a more pleasant alternative drinking a quart-full of elephant urine, being buggered senseless by a bunch of sex-starved, scab-encrusted nonagenarians, and then thrown into a pit full of angry anacondas?

"Are you comfortable with all the firm's electronic-data and telephonic systems, conversant with all current software packages, as well as being able to write Visual Basic code in your sleep? Or is your only acquaintance with IT the downloading of mucky pictures from Adult Premium-Rated sites, and a total inability to win even one game of Minesweeper?"

Well, what am I supposed to say? Tell them how fantastic and criminally underrated I really am, and everyone's going to think I'm lying or, at the very least, taking the piss, and there's no place in the company for someone that arrogant and self-obsessed anyway. And downplay my abilities just a fraction too much and that's when they are, in fact, going to believe me, and then the next thing you know it's a trip up to Mamma Boss for the P45, because who'd want to employ someone who knows how bad he is and hasn't done anything about it all year?

A happy medium is called for here, I suspect, something which I've never been particularly adept at. You know, this could turn out to be one of the biggest pieces of bullshit fiction I'll ever write. . .

Sunday, December 28, 2003
I'm Coming Out
Doors have been unsealed. Outdoors access has been allowed. A daring expedition onto the planet's surface (Selfridges) has been attempted. Results have been. . . satisfactory. Contact has been re-established with the indigenous life-form (well, a barman on Old Compton Street, but this evolution thing takes time). And the 390 is running to schedule.

Know what, my dears? I think we've survived it again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Bunker Mentality
Necessary precautions have been taken. As of five minutes ago, all outer doors have been sealed and time-locked. Windows have been shuttered to block out the outside world. All electronic communication has ceased.

Emergency life-support systems are now in operation. The occupant will be fed and watered until such time as it is deemed unnecessary. Humbugs have been bought. Provision has also been made for what is left of the subject's mental well-being: amusement disks have been provided.

Re-entry into Normality is currently scheduled for two days' time. Or whenever public transport is up and running again, the BBC News comes on at its proper time, and every single merry-chr*st**sing Bob Cratchit is speared fatally through the heart with his own piece of holly, and Tiny Tim is back where he belongs, giving blow-jobs down the Dilly for a wrap of crack.

And it’s a hard, and it's a bitter, rain's a-gonna fall. My dears.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Goody Two-Shoes
Justin Timberlake dropped round my local boozer for a bevy recently. Unfortunately, I was at work and couldn't make the date. Not that I would have recognised him even if I had been there. As someone whose last-remembered Top of the Pops coincided with "Mad World" being a hit first time round, these days I live in blissful ignorance of who's in the singles charts. I've always been an albums kind of man anyway; never had any time for all this 45rpm nonsense. Oh. You mean, they don't any more? Ah, well. . .

I'm told that Justin had an orange juice, said "please" and "thank you" a lot to the bar staff, and was generally a very well-behaved young man. Bless. In my day, if you hadn't knocked back two and a half bottles of Jack Daniels, shagged three convent-girls up the bum, and developed a serious smack habit in time for the One O'Clock News, then you were either a sissy, or Aled Jones, which is even more worrying.

I hear Justin's the latest candidate for the Future of Rock 'n' Roll. If his behaviour round my local is anything to go by, then the dear boy's still got a long way to go.

Monday, December 22, 2003
No Socks Please
Socks never held much appeal for me. Socks make my feet hot and smelly, and most pairs survive only three or four washings before my big toe pokes through them anyway. Most of the time, I pad around my flat barefoot, and rarely pull them on with my gym-shoes. I do wear them in the street and for work, however, mainly because, if I didn't in this weather, all my toes, and not just the big one, would fall off; or, what's even worse, people would have me down as some sad grizzled reject from an old Miami Vice episode. Even I do not do that particular piece of retro-chic anymore. Once was more than enough, thank you very much.

I last bought myself a pair of socks in the mid-eighties. They were a pair of pale-blue designer jobbies, specially purchased to complement the pastel loafers and striped flannels I then used to swank around in. (This was my Summer of Whimsy, my dears, when I still thought the Brideshead look was a good idea.) Designer or not, within a week, Big Toe had made another of his valiant stabs for freedom, and they ended up with holes in them too, just like the cheapo packs of six I used to buy from C&A.

Lest you think I've been wearing the same pale-blues for the past twenty years, rest assured that I do have a reliably constant source of fresh pairs. Every December spent at the maternal home invariably sees me returning with Morrisons carrier-bags stuffed full of the socks Ma Stranger's bought over the past twelve months.

The number of pairs she gives me is normally determined by some mysterious calculation involving the total years I've lived away from home, subtracted from my actual age, and then multiplied by all the occasions I've broken her heart. So I usually start each new year with the pairs I own hitting triple figures, and, whenever Mister Big Toe pops through again, I simply chuck them away, never bothering to repair them.

This year, my mum hasn't been mobile enough to do much shopping, so I've just returned from a long weekend Up North socks-starved, with but three new pairs to get me through this coming year, rather than last December's record top-up of forty-seven pairs. With the once-ubiquitous Sock Shops now reduced in numbers to a mere handful, and my refusal to even consider crossing the threshold of Marks & Sparks until mid-February, as well as an understandable reluctance to chop off my offending big toe, it looks as though I'm going to have to go barefoot till then. Either that, or finally learn how to darn a pair of socks. . .

Thursday, December 18, 2003
Territorial Rights
Most of you know I go to the gym regularly, usually arriving there just after seven a.m. It's an Achievement, I'll have you know. It's especially so in this brass-monkey weather and when you only got to bed past midnight last night, after having seen Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words, a modern dance piece set in Swinging Sixties London, and the sexiest thing I've seen at the National all year.

At this frankly twisted time of morning, there's a small band of eager little body fascists gym bunnies who reliably shamble in every day, each one of us a creature of unbreakable habit. There's the old geezer, dressed in shorts whatever the weather, who's always first in the queue, tapping his membership card impatiently, waiting for the doors to open at seven. Then there's the tattooed loverboy who arrives with his girlfriend at 7.45 on the dot, before hanging around shirtless for too long than is convincingly heterosexual. And, of course, Master Narcissus herself, invariably choosing just one particular shower, because only that one faces a full-length mirror in which he can admire his pumped-up, soaped-down body.

Diverse as we may be in our little quirks and routines, we all observe basic gym etiquette: don't hog the resistance machines; put the free weights back where you found them; swim in the lane most appropriate to your ability; and don't look too long between the other guy's legs because he's bigger than you, and not only there.

But there's a new bloke at the gym now, someone unversed in these subtle, unwritten rules. I have never set eyes on him, and I don't even know who he is. But I'm convinced he's out there, just as I know he arrives at the gym even earlier than I do. And how do I know all this?

Because for the past week he's been using my bloody locker, that's why, getting to it a good five minutes before me, locking me out of the place in which I've hung towel and Timotei for five long years. It's the one at the end of a row, which gives me loads more space to get dressed, as well as affording me an almost panoramic view of the entire changing room. Everyone knows it's my locker: that's why no one else of the 7 a.m. gang would ever dream of going near it.

For you can do many things, my dears. You can laugh at my front crawl in the pool, or overtake me in the slow lane. You can fault my lateral pull-down technique, sneer at the amount of reps I can't do, or suggest that a couple less Stellas might just help the old BMI. Why, you can even slander me as a middle-aged tart, vainly trying to regain the sleek, youthful look he never had in the first place, and I will merely look benignly down at you before gliding on silently by.

But grab Locker 226 at the London Central YMCA just one more time, matey, and it's the Sudetenland all over again. I shall dicker with your dumbbells and tamper with your treadmill, load forty-kilo weights onto your ten-kilo bar, puncture every last one of your Swiss Balls, and then run off with your Speedos when you're not looking.

And, if all that fails, then I'll start coming in earlier still. This is war, my dears. And it won't end till 226 is mine again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Champagne Supernova
At this time of year, when most people I know are celebrating the birth of someone they don't believe in, I tend to get given bottles of champagne. These not-so-wise men bringing me these gifts hope it will make me believe in them this coming year, and push some lucrative business their way.

Well, I've news for you, my generous and scheming little dears: the Zanussi is already bursting with Moët, meaning there's hardly any room for the partridge, pear-tree and poppers and, besides, I can't stand the stuff. So much for the Ab Fab party life then. Excuse me while I shuffle off for a nice cup of Horlicks.

Now, I admit there are occasions — personal tragedies, dark depressions, bailiffs on the doorstep — when only tap-dancing and the effervescence of champagne can pull you through, but generally it's over-rated and over-priced, either too acidic or too sweet, and never served at the right temperature. It also gets up my nose, and makes me burp. How terribly sophisticated.

But the main reason is that it's the only drink which invariably gets me pissed way too quickly and easily. And that's pissed, by the way, not drunk. Pissed as in why am I lying face-down somewhere which hasn't got a London post-code, what was my name again, and, why, thank you, Officer, it's so nice of you to offer me a lift in your shiny new van.

Drunk I can do very well, carrying it off with my customary and endearingly boyish charm (yeah, right); but pissed, and I do not want to know me, and neither does anyone else celebrating on Old Compton Street. So if you're thinking of buying me anything alcoholic this Advent, a bottle of Amaretto, a classy Armagnac or just an Absolut would go down a treat (although a case of Argentinean red would be even more acceptable). But easy on the champers please. Those sneaky bubbles get me every time, and you really do not want to be held responsible for the consequences.

Sunday, December 14, 2003
Dream A Little Dream
Last night I dreamt I was flying. Nothing unusual in that, my dears: it's a dream I've had ever since I discovered which way is up. The dream dictionary informs me that this represents my quest for freedom and my urge to soar above the mundane banalities of my humdrum existence. Apparently, it also means I'm on top of whatever situation most concerns me at the moment. And there was I thinking it just meant I was really Superman.

I'm a crap flyer, anyway. I can only stay up swimming in the air for a few seconds at a time, before being forced to alight, albeit briefly, back onto terra firma. No amount of fairy dust (of whatever kind), or thinking wonderful thoughts, will ever get me into the Peter Pan league, which leads me to suspect that perhaps this friend of Wendy isn't in as overall control as he'd like to believe.

This isn't my only recurring dream, however. For about the third or fourth time this month, I've dreamt of certain other bloggers, some of whom appear on my sidebar, some of whom don't, some on whose sites I comment, and some not. Funnily enough, none of these dreams has involved any of the web-loggers I've met in Real Life, or anyone I'd recognise by virtue of their mug-shots being featured regularly on their sites.

So last night [name withheld for legal reasons] got the hump with me and [name withheld because it's just too embarrassing] because we'd been out all night with [name withheld because you'd never believe it], and the thing was that [name withheld because of professional ethics] had been waiting to be introduced to [name withheld on grounds of good manners] who knew that I sort-of fancied their best mate [name withheld because it’s none of your business] all along.

Now, what's the dream dictionary to make of all that?

Thursday, December 11, 2003
It's So Nice To Be Insane (No-One Asks You To Explain)
When you live alone, talking to yourself is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, it's to be expected, if you don't want to turn completely bonkers. Sometimes, a decision can only be made correctly, or a thought process taken to its proper conclusion, when it's expressed aloud. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

So I've no problem with chirping maniacally away to myself like a speed-junkie squirrel, and do not regard it as the first step on that long, lonely road terminating at Funny Farm Central. With the advent of hands-free technology, you can even do it in the street these days, and no-one will look pityingly at you as though you're gaga, and cross the road to avoid you. No, they'll just think you're a prat. They'll still cross the road though.

Recently, however, I've noticed a disturbing new tendency. Not content merely with muttering softly to myself, I have now started to answer back. My vocalised interior monologue has become a dialogue. It happened last night, when I was sketching out some future blog, and debating whether I should have just one more Stella before going home. One part of me vociferously insisted I had had enough, while the other argued forcefully that another little half wouldn't do me any harm, and might even help the flow of ideas. No prizes for guessing which side won.

For the regulars at the bar, it was a bit like eavesdropping on Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, although not quite as pretty. They've always thought I was a bit of a self-obsessed nutter anyway, and now all their worst fears have been confirmed.

But that's OK. After all, two's company, they say. It's only three that's doo-lally.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Those Were The Days
For some queer reason, it's assumed I have a up-to-the-minute grasp of the pop-cultural Zeitgeist. Work-colleagues all congregate round the water-cooler, like acolytes to my Delphi, for pronouncements on last night's must-see telly, and my opinions on the latest artistic vibe down Hoxton way.

It's all down to being a gay man, I suppose, a colourful and comparatively rare bird in the humdrum beigeness of the corporately-suited world. Gay men have their finger on the pulse: everyone knows that. The Sunday supplements and the fag-mags say so: it must be true. Ever eager to express our individuality (as long as it's the same), we eagerly adopt new fashions (as long as it's unwearable with a big label) and establish exciting new trends in music (as long as it's Kylie). Oh, my dears, we are just so hip our bottoms are falling off!

Er, well, not quite. In an attempt to save myself from any future water-cooler moments, I would like it to be known that: I have seen not one single episode of either Buffy or Angel, nor do I intend to, only two of Jack and Karen Will and Grace, and may I be buggered with barbed wire and subjected to Diamanda Galas on eternal loop should I ever willingly sit down to watch Pop Idol or a "reality" TV show. I do, however, own a comprehensive video collection including some of the best episodes ever of the Phil Silvers Show and Dad's Army, the scariest ghost story ever filmed, as well as the Nick Kamen in his boxer shorts telly ad.

Although I can recognise most male stars, I cannot put a face to the names of Minnie Driver, Meg Ryan, or Sandra Bullock. However, I know every contour of Monroe's figure, had an auntie who looked like Katharine Hepburn, and consider Louise Brooks to be very probably the most beautiful woman who ever lived. I do not know exactly for what J-Lo is famous.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the last concert I attended was at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring Shirley Bassey. (In my defence, at the time I was a big Morrisey fan trying to be ironic.). I do not know who is number one at the moment, cannot name one song by Eminem, and, though I like Goldfrapp enormously, I think Noosha Fox did it better first time round. I also own more than a few albums by Melanie, but I'd rather not discuss that here. I think Gregorian chant is cool.

I'm not too keen on modern art; which, for me, starts round about 1945, and believe a cow's proper place is in the field and not formaldehyde. And I have never seen a cut, director's or otherwise, of Bladerunner, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, or anything with Johnny Depp in it. But there's not a thing on 1920s German Expressionist cinema you can catch me out on, and I can quote you line for line from Sunset Boulevard..

I do not know what post-modernism means.

Finger on the pulse? Foot in the grave, more like.

Thursday, December 04, 2003
Catch Of The Day
Yesterday was spent suffering with a funny tummy, the result of an evening passed with a cash-strapped friend at one of those all-you-can-eat-for-a-fiver places. I should have known better than to trust a "restaurant", which, despite having an Italian name, serves Spanish-style tapas, dished up by moon-lighting Korean students, and where the house red is Bulgarian gut-rot. Classy fusion food it was not.

Now, as someone whose idea of culinary heaven is a pair of finest pork and beef sausages squashed between slices of thin, processed, white bread, I can hardly be called a food snob, but I reckon if you want good grub then you have to pay for it.

As I totter disgracefully through my forties, I find I'm eating out more and more. I appreciate dining in restaurants, enjoying the company of good friends, or perhaps getting to know a new one better, over fine food and wine; and a bill of between twenty to forty quid per head with plonk, or even more, depending on the occasion, is OK with me. For my generation, dining out is rapidly becoming the new clubbing or pubbing: just a couple of years ago we'd normally be spending twice as much as that on a night of pharmaceutically-assisted jumping up and down anyway.

But the best meal I've ever had in my life wasn't in some over-priced metropolitan eaterie, patronised by C-list celebrities, or part-owned by one of those chefs off the telly, but on the Greek island of Rhodes. One afternoon, the scorching June heat had finally defeated us, and we parked at a run-down and out-of-the-way taverna on the beach.

Sitting out on a ramshackle jetty, staring over the sea at the wind-surfers in the distance, we feasted on fish, sizzling and pan-fried in its own juices, garnished with nothing more than lemon. It was delicious on its own, but made more so by the knowledge that, just twenty minutes previously, we had seen the grizzled taverna owner send his dark-eyed teenage son out with a spear to catch the fish, especially for us, fresh from the glittering Aegean shallows. (And we got tons of change from our drachmas as well.)

Sometimes, you don't need even one single Michelin star to impress.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Let Go Outside
I leave home round about 6.45, to be at the gym by seven. After my workout, I avoid the Wild Hunt of commuters streaming out of the tube station for an early start at my desk, located in an open-planned basement into which no natural light is allowed to intrude. Lunch is rabbit-food snatched from the canteen (also in the basement), and the next hour or so is spent in the glare of my monitor, either writing this blog, or, more probably, reading yours. I return to the Outside just after five, in time to catch the moon rising in a starless, light-polluted London sky.

I would like to imagine my drained and sun-starved pallor is the height of vampiric chic, and lends to my appearance an air of menace and undead glamour. I secretly suspect the fact that the only sunshine I've seen in weeks has been the weather installation at Tate Modern, is making me behave like and resemble nothing more than a crumbling, grumbling reject from a George Romero movie, unfortunately more Max Schreck than Tom Cruise. I need to change my routine. Or at least get an office with a window.

Monday, December 01, 2003
Buddy's Blog
I don't normally talk about my private life on this blog. Perhaps today I should.

When I first arrived in London in the early 80s, I was young and gagging for it. My life was one long shagathon, and I'd make more new "friends" in a week than I now do in a year, and I rarely enquired after their names. My arrival in the capital also coincided with the opening of the notorious and short-lived Subway club on Leicester Square. The first venue of its kind in the UK, it advertised itself as an "American style club", which meant DJs playing frenetic HiNRG, and two large darkrooms, where the all-male, amyl-sniffing clientele went at it like bunny-rabbits. I was down there almost every night.

Around this time, I met "Buddy", a doctor from New York, who was in the UK on a sabbatical. Looking back, I suppose I had something of a crush on him, though we never slept together. He was about ten years older than me, streetwise and savvy, with a sly and intelligent wit, and one of the very first people who took me and my crazy ambitions seriously. He was the level-headed and together gay man I wanted to become. (In case you think he sounds too good to be true, let me point out that he was also the one who turned me on to showtunes, so he's a lot to answer for.)

One Tuesday evening in '82 he invited me round for dinner with a mate of his from New York, Martin Sherman, the writer of award-winning play, Bent. It was a civilised evening, talking art and politics, and bitching about Hollywood and Broadway stars. In passing, Sherman mentioned that he wished someone would take action against this mysterious new something which seemed to be affecting only gay men. None of us dwelt much on it, and later that evening, I went off and played the slut as usual down in Subway.

We didn't think about the consequences of our actions in the dark or worry about something which didn't even have a name back then. We certainly didn't know anyone who died of it, and we were all young and going to live forever anyway. But by virtue of hanging around with Buddy, as news started to trickle in from his friends and colleagues in the States, I realised that this was serious. I became more and more informed, certainly more so than the Government at the time; and it was Buddy who urged me to alter my slutty behaviour, or, at the very least, start using condoms, way before anyone dared to mention them on daytime TV. The fact I'm still around today, when many of my other sleaze-pals from that time are not, is down in no small part to him.

Eventually he moved back to what was then the front-line in New York, establishing a busy gay men's health practice, and doing research into possible vaccines against what had now been named AIDS. I went over one Christmas and saw a community in crisis. . When I returned to London, I asked the management of Brief Encounter, then the capital's largest and busiest gay bar, why they didn't have AIDS charity tins on the bar, as they had in New York. It would put off the customers, they informed me, and they didn't want to know.

Buddy would fly back to London regularly and we'd often meet up for lunch or a trip to the theatre. One time we went to see the musical Chess in the West End, and then I treated him to dinner in Soho. It was the late 80s, and AIDS still hadn't really hit the UK with the force it had in Manhattan. But everyone in New York seemed to be dying, he told me, and, though he claimed to have tested negative six months earlier, he was still scared. I babbled some inane comment that he was my friend which meant that he wouldn't die, and, like a coward, changed the subject.

I never saw or heard from him again. Eighteen months later, I read in the paper that he had died. I wonder if, that last time, he knew he was HIV-positive, and was testing me, trying to see what my reaction would be. If so, then, sorry, Buddy, I failed the test back then, but you know I don't today. But it would have been so good to have seen you just one more time. At least you're still remembered, under your real name, and not your favoured nickname, in the AIDS quilt, that moving memorial to all of those we've lost to that bastard virus.

Today on World AIDS Day, things aren't as bleak as they were in my twenties, at least not for us in the West, with drugs and combinations of drugs to control the disease. And while there's an enormous amount to do in the developing world, I wish Buddy could be around today to see the progress we've made. And besides, I miss him like fuck.