Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

Currently clicking:
- bboyblues
- bitful
- blue witch
- diamondgeezer
- glitter for brains
- london calling
- naked blog
- troubled diva

Usually Playing:
- ute
- neil and chris
- peter and anna
- june
- kurt

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Fears Of A Clone
This week, I chose to buy my very first Abba CD, rather than getting some obscure but ultimately rewarding World Music recording which I'd really have to work hard at to appreciate; and, in a particularly grumpy and snooty mood, I scowled at the middle-aged stranger who bought me a drink, while conveniently forgetting that I am also a middle-aged Stranger, who never buys drinks unless we've been introduced first.

In addition, I spent an entire evening in a chrome-plated bar, and not a pub, quoting extensively from Will and Grace rather than Wilhelm Meister, and declined the pints of Stella in favour of bottles of Smirnoff Ice; while there, I also read the free fag-mags Boyz and QX from cover to cover, but didn't even pick up a copy of the Pink Paper, because, well, it's politics, isn't it, and what’s that got to do with us? I was also heard using the words "puh-leeaze", "like totally" and "awesome" in the same sentence.

And finally, I was seized by what can only be described as the girly giggles when I learnt that skin-care people Biotherm have finally opened a concession in the UK; gave one female friend fashion hints, and another advice on a ménage à trois; and hissed at Gail while cheering Todd on Corrie.

So much for my careful presentation of an off-line persona of a deeply caring, slightly off-the-wall but seriously cultured and non-stereotypical gay man. Looks like I've morphed into a mainstream Mary, while nobody was looking, just like everybody else.

Now. Will someone please slap some good taste and common sense into me, before I get another round of those alcopops in?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
I know it was over five days ago, and it's already been blogged to death by the best, but bear with me. I've only just easyjetted in from a few days with Sal and Chris round their gaff, and I'm determined to chuck in my two Euros' worth as well.

The highlight of my weekend away was, naturally, the Gay Cup Final (or the Grand Prix, as they call it over there, which makes it sound ever so butch, and you half expect Murray Walker to be doing the commentary, rather than dear old Tel).

Now I won't hear a bad word said against the New Seekers and I consider Cheryl Baker's defrocking a seminal moment in British pop culture (although the less said about me and Mary Hopkin probably the better), but surprisingly I've never really got Eurovision before. I think the last time I actually watched it in its entirety was sometime in the seventies when I didn't know any better. In an attic Up North there's my battered and very mangled off-air C-90 recording of the 1973 competition, and I still know all the words to Maxi's chirpy "Do I Dream?", while continuing to get shivers at the Spanish power-anthem "Eres Tu" by Mocedades Yet I could never get myself excited over a bunch of glammed-up, glitzed-up, third-rate, tone-deaf, self-aware, superstar-wannabes with perfect teeth and no sense of shame. After all, apart from the perfect teeth, that's what I'm aiming for, and I do not like competition.

But when you're packed into a busting-to-the-buttocks bar in Berlin's bender quarter, surrounded on all sides by supposedly "straight-acting" men, hailing from at least ten different countries and nearly as many time zones, and when the biggest scuffle breaks out when someone writes on someone else's score-sheet, and when tears are shed by the big muscle boy next to you as it becomes patently obvious his man is not going to win, so everyone decides to go for Greece anyway because, well, it'll really piss Turkey off, won't it, and mine's a Schultheiss, dankeschön , and that girl dancing on the bar knows all the words to the UK entry, but the bloke she thinks is her boyfriend understands exactly what Sweden's going on about. And when you realise that sixty years ago, most of these countries were kicking the s**t out of each other, and a decade ago some of them were stuck in a bloody civil war, and now the thing they're most concerned about is winning some totally inconsequential pop-pap piece of bubblegum nonsense… well, it's at times like this that my faith in a united and peaceful Europe is absolutely boundless.

And that, my dears, and no matter how much you goad me, is the first and only political statement you will ever get in this blog.

Now. Chicken Kiev, anyone?

Friday, May 14, 2004
Cheap Music
Noël Coward got it spot on when he marvelled at the potency of "cheap music". Play Fauré's Requiem, and the greater part of the country will wonder what all the fuss is about and go off and listen to Kylie instead. But plonk Elton behind the old Joanna with a vulgar, trashy and totally apposite reworking of "Candle in the Wind", and he captures perfectly the hysterical mood of an entire nation (well, apart from me, that is), and gets himself a knighthood into the bargain.

It's amazing how evocative of time and place some music can be. Every couple, past, present, or plotting revenge, has "their" song; and while there are masses who can think of far better things for God to do than save the Queen, I suspect there are few English people who aren't just a tiny bit moved by the patriotic zeal and vision of "Jerusalem".

Other memories are much more personal. Terry Jacks' frankly otherwise quite atrocious version of "Seasons in the Sun" takes me back to my "O"-levels and one of the hottest summers on record when the temperature was so high the ground began to crack. On my first trip to New York, and at the precise moment my yellow cab cleared a corner to give me my first sight of that night-time skyline, "Like A Virgin" blasted out at me from the car speakers. "Touched for the very first time," sang Madge. If only she knew. And I'd love to tell you what associations Patti Smith's "Horses" holds for me, but if I did Blogger would very probably close me down.

Of course, the memories aren't always that pleasant. I can't listen to "An Englishman In New York", Sting's homage to Quentin Crisp, without thinking of a former flat-mate, because that was on continuous loop on the hospital radio as we waited for him to die. And whenever I hear the vomitous "Wind Beneath My Wings", I'm time-warped back to flying in a small plane over the Masai Mara with the one who'd later end up breaking my —

Er. Sorry. Don't know what came over me there. Now, where was I? Oh yes, evocative music.

I was reminded about this the other night, when I was going off on one of my usual three-and-a-half Stella rants, this one about gay anthems, those overlong, over-hyped, over-produced pieces of pink pish which purport to define and unite an entire community whose only common interest is what, or more precisely who, they'd like to get up to with their willies.

I was expected to choose as my fag-fave some hands-in-the-air, amyl-up-the-nostril G.A.Y crowd pleaser like "I Will Survive" or "I Am What I Am", or maybe even "YMCA" or at least something from Steps, which is a fair indication of the opinion certain people have of me round these parts. Instead I went for "Somewhere", from West Side Story.

I first heard this in its homo-context a few years ago at the After Party of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (something else over-hyped, over-produced and over not a moment too soon if you want my opinion). Then, a six-foot, slinky, black drag queen came on stage, dressed all in white, and sang to the accompaniment of a single piano:
There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

The song's gentle yearning for nothing more than peace and acceptance stunned into shocked and respectful silence a thousands-strong dancefloor of sweaty Muscle Marys. (The pharmaceuticals may also have played not a small part in it, however…)

I next heard it round about a year later, after the fatal bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub, right in the heart of London's gay ghetto village. I was running late that Friday evening, otherwise I might have dropped in there for a drink. I would certainly have been passing by. Two of my friends were inside when the bomb went off; thankfully they survived with only minor injuries and burns, but even today, five years after the event, the memories linger, and the staff still search your bag when you visit.

The pub reopened about six weeks later, fittingly on the Friday before that year's Gay Pride/ Mardi Gras/ Big Gay Out, or whatever the fageratti were calling it that particular year. I took along to the re-opening ceremony in a packed Old Compton Street one of the friends who'd been in the pub at the time the bomb went off, the idea being to help exorcise the ghost of the attack as soon as possible. After the speeches and messages of support had been read, and the bells of St Anne's church had tolled for each one of the dead and the injured, someone, I don't know who, came to the open first-floor window, and sang once again that song from West Side Story, no longer a song of yearning but now a two-fingers to homophobes more powerful than all your Gloria Gaynors put together, and for one all too brief period also an affirmation of community:
We'll find a new way of living,
We'll find a way of forgiving
There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care…
Hold my hand and I'll take you there,
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.

Oh, sod it. You had to be there. Or just a big old softy Stranger like me.

Monday, May 10, 2004
What I Did On My Holidays
Bought brand-new digital camera. Took two piccies before sadly realising neither my friends nor myself are glamorous enough for me ever to be considered the new Testino. Lost interest. Resolved to lose unglamorous friends as well, and get myself a makeover.

Decided to be Dead Cultural and view the documents and manuscripts on display at the British Library down the road. Got as far as King's Cross and bought a mucky magazine and a too-tight T-shirt instead.

Went to a party in the hope of meeting up with some interesting new company. Made inappropriate suggestion to friend of same gender but of different persuasion. Avoided his and my local pub for rest of week through embarrassment.

Went to the gym for the first of five workouts. Compared myself to the lithe and lissom lurking behind the lockers, and realised the only way I am ever going to have a body halfway as decent as a knickers model is if I pay for it. And unfortunately not with sweat. Gave up week's other planned workouts and commiserated with myself over pizza, pudding and Pils. Had stomach cramps all the following morning.

Considered going out to an all-nighter, conveniently sited just seven and half minutes' shamble from chez Stranger. Realised there are certain things a man of my age and gravitas should not be seen doing in public, no matter how dark it is once you get inside. These include being stripped to the waist on the nearest elevated surface, waving a glo-stick in the air whilst whooping to some remix of next-door's Hoover, and sniffing a lot. Stayed in with a bottle of wine and watched Parkinson instead. Decided that, even though I still haven't found myself, I can no longer count myself as one of the Lost Boys.

Couldn't make up my mind whether I should fly off here for bouillabaisse, here for Gaudi, or there for revenge. Settled for bacon cheeseburger and a moan in exotic Zone One.

My next week-long holiday is at the end of June, and, after heroically failing at everything I promised myself this break, I am determined to Do Something next time round. Will someone please draw me up a list of interesting and constructive things to do? And then make sure I do them this time?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Wake-Up Call
I’m on holiday this week, and globe-trotting, Prada-clad poser sophisticate that I really, really wish someone would think I am, I’ve decided to slum it at home in classy N7 instead. This means that rather than being woken up at six in the morning by the radio, I’m now sleeping in much later, and the first thing I hear is the workmen, doing whatever it is that workmen do, directly below the open windows of my first-floor flat.

I’m not so sure I want to know too much about Eric’s nice little earner, his sure-fire tip for the 4.50 at Kempton Park, or what Chris really wanted to do with that bird he was trying to pull last night, but it’s certainly a whole lot more entertaining and insightful than the Today programme usually is, my dears.

Sunday, May 02, 2004
Keeping Up Appearances
I’m a private sort of person. For example, I rarely invite friends over for coffee. These days, they don’t even get invited back for, ahem, “coffee”. In the past five years I’ve lived in my flat, I doubt the number of people to cross the threshold has even reached double figures. And two of them were the gas-man and an extremely disappointing pizza delivery boy.

It’s less a case of being anti-social, and more a case of valuing my privacy in a city where it’s hard to find any. Besides, the shoebox behind King’s Cross in which I live is hardly big enough to throw a tantrum, let alone a party.

This evening, however, will be different, as a mate’s dropping by before we both head off to a mutual friend’s barbeque. (A barbie! I ask you! A mere three years ago and most Sunday lunchtimes would spot me stumbling, saucer-eyed and smiling, from a certain establishment, before heading off to join the rest of the Marvellously Mashed on London’s Old Compton Street. Why, hello, Middle Age, and how are you, my dear, and yes, I’d love another Sanatogen, thank you very much.)

In honour of the visitation, I have spent the entire morning Dysoning and polishing, as well as eliminating a rather interesting new eco-system in the kitchen sink. What’s more, I have ensured that the CDs on display are the ones she would approve of, and not the music I’m currently listening to. The mags on the black-ash coffee table are classy and arty, rather than my usual trash. And I’ve even hidden the stash of porn behind my Robert Mapplethorpe, which, I suppose, is replacing like with like, but at least this time it’s in black-and-white so that makes it Art.

My dears, you couldn’t get more wallpaper* magazine if you tried.

This woman has known me for twenty-five years, and she isn’t even my mother. She first met me slumped over an Irish coffee in a Berlin bar. She knows of my fondness for willies, is well aware of the fact I’m a slob, and has learnt to live reluctantly with the fact that I think “Somewhere” from West Side Story is possibly the most moving piece of music ever written.

So. Just who am I trying to impress?

Saturday, May 01, 2004
Well, Bugger Me…
… as from today, I’m legal. And about time too, my dears. There's only a finite number of unlawful acts a Stranger my age can get up to, you know.

And Beltane's come and gone, and Todd and Karl have got it on, so I guess the blog-break's over.