Life in London

Life in London for a not-quite-middle-aged gay Australian guy. Oh, the glamour of it all!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Would you like a cup of tea, Father?

There was a time when I used to drink a lot of tea. I used to drink it when I was a teenager, trying assorted Twinings teas to find one I liked (English Breakfast and Irish breakfast used to be favourites), but like heterosexuality in my teenage years, something never felt quite right with it. I was introduced to real coffee via a plunger (cafetiere) in my early twenties and from then I was hooked. From plunger coffee I moved on to harder and darker coffees, and the final nail in tea’s coffin for me came in 1994.

This was London in 1994, when there were only 4 Costa Coffees in town, when it was easier to find a Tory MP being spanked in brothel in Soho than it was to find a decent cappuccino. So there I was in Selfridges, frantically trying to find a Christmas present for my then boyfriend, when I saw a Gaggia and it was reduced. So £120 later it was all mine and I still had to find my boyfriend a present.

Fast forward 12 years and my Gaggia is still going strong, outlasted that boyfriend (and provided me with more happiness, but that’s a whole other post) and gives me the strength to commute out to Slough 4 days a week. So when Paul said we were going to the Savoy for tea, to celebrate Julie’s birthday, my first thought was "Do they serve coffee?" My next thought was "You little ripper!", when I was told the Savoy also does a champagne tea.

So Saturday we, eventually, after first stopping for a quick drink at the very Chi-chi One Aldwych, found ourselves in the art-deco splendour of the Savoy Hotel for tea to celebrate Julie’s birthday. It was Paul’s Aunt Daphne’s birthday gift to Julie and very enjoyable it was too. The service was friendly and attentive (we had a Polish Mrs Doyle, pushing tea like it was crack cocaine), my tea (Japanese Green tea with Cherry and Rose) was fantastic, the cakes, scones and sandwiches were neverending and we had a great time. Oh, and the Laurent Perrier Champagne wasn’t bad either, almost as sparkling as the conversation and the pianist. It was all very English and a lot of fun. I’d recommend it to anyone.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

It's still summer, it's still beautiful....

and Nelson's column has just had a full nip and tuck.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Price of Fame

Sorry, I was a bit slack last week - since I was featured in theguardian, I've been fielding calls from call centres all over the vast subcontinent of India wanting to know if I'm happy with my package. Not to mention calls from Max Clifford and literary agents.

So the weekend before last we headed out to Julie's to celebrate her birthday.
(Manners don’t prevent me from saying how old Julie was, but my keyboard doesn’t have numbers that big.) We headed over to Lee and Keirsty’s to celebrate with the cuisine of two former colonies. The negotiations for the order were more involved than the Doha trade round, but I emerged triumphant, managing to maintain my demands for a full Naan bread and mixing Chinese and Indian starters. I think I might take Peter Mandelson’s job, as I fit the two criteria: 1) I’m gay and 2) have a full head of hair.

Anyway I digress, the night was good fun, Julie seemed to enjoy herself, as did Nana D who repeated the lines "I don't suppose I'll be here next year" and 'I don't like Indian, and I only like Chinese starters", like a buddhist chant all night. In other news from the evening, Josh and Georgia have chicken pox, which meant Josh pulled up his shirt at every available opportunity to show his scars. He needed less encouragement than his uncle at a nightclub to remove his shirt.

Sunday was spent sunning ourselves and picnicing at Hampstead Heath Ponds with friends, which involved the usual swim and then constant monitoring of health for the next 24 hours to ensure the bracken water didn't bring on some bizarre stomach bug.

I still have the scars from Wednesday night, where I stupidly challenged a 25(?)-y-o to a bungy run at Paul's work. It involved running down an inflatable lane and attaching velcro pads at the end of the lane. You are then pulled back down the lane by the cord, removing most of your skin in the process. I suppose it was cheaper than dermabrasion. Next time I'll pick someone older and my own size.

Saturday night we went down to the new Bar Code at Vauxhall with Stuie and Lee. It was full of an 'up for it' pre-clubbing crowd, and the bar itself was unusual in the fact that money has been spent on it. And the aircon on the dancefloor works! Result. We ran into a few people we know down there too, so had good night, although the place was packed and that meant long waits for drinks. It's open until 3am (which is exciting in itself, as since licensing laws were relaxed last year, the City of Westminster hasn't granted many late licences in Soho), so there's now somewhere decent to go if you want a lateish night out, but don't want to go clubbing.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

At least I knew it wasn't going to blow up

even though I was carrying a large backpack.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Notes from a heatwave

3 days over 30C does not constitute a heatwave - it’s called ‘Summer’.

It is not necessary to remind people that London is hotter than Rio, Rome, the Canaries and the Bahamas. It won’t be for long.

Carry water with you everywhere. Even on a ten-minute tube trip and sip from it at 60-second intervals, thousands of people die of dehydration every year in Britain you know.

Moan about the heat – that will bring back grey skies and drizzle. Then moan about that.

It is not necessary to run in tracksuit pants and a long sleeved top when the temperature is over 30C.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

I tell you, London is the new Ibiza

As this article proves. And these photos.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

"An empty bench in Soho Square,

If you'd have come, you'd have found me there". Well not quite, not without a lot of looking.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

The things you see on the Tube

Ken Clarke, Conservative MP, former Home Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer in John Major's government, hopped onto the Circle Line, sat down, and proceeded to read his copy of the independent. Now why would a leftwing newspaper reading europhile stand for the leadership of the Tory party three times and not win? Let me think.......

And look- he really does wear brown suede Hush Puppies everywhere!

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I Love theguardian - reason # 193

Two jokes - one from yesterday:

Jean-Paul Sartre was busily working on Being and Nothingness in a Paris cafe. He paused to ask the waitress for a "coffee with no cream". "I'm afraid we have no cream, monsieur," she replied. "How about a coffee with no milk?"

And then a followup today:

Descartes in a coffee shop. "Would you like cream with that?" asked the waiter. "I think not," replied Descartes, who promptly disappeared.

And revealed today - Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 (the intelligence agency, not a Tom Cruise (nutter extraordinaire) vehicle) comes out as a guardian reader.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Prague Pics

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No you won't fool the children of the revolution

This weekend we whisked Julie away for an euroweekend to Prague. The Czech capital was lovely - warm, sunny and pretty. Sometimes almost too pretty and too clean, it was almost unrecognisable from the city I visited in 1992. Then, there were practically no tourists, not a lot of accommodation and eating out consisted of chewing gristly meat and leaden dumplings. It was beautiful, but still grim after years of communism. Now, it's all Italian restaurants, designer hotels and crystal shops on every corner, which is all very good for the cashed-up northern European tourist, but we did wonder how accessible it all was to the average Czech.

We ran into two groups of guys we know from London, which goes to show how small the world is (or at least how small the gay scene is in Prague). And the Czech boys are very pretty, in that hairless, suntanned, East European way. Both nights we ended up at Valentino's which was not a bad spot. In particular on Saturday night there was a room playing cheesy eurotrash and (I assume) Czech classics. It was hilarious and a lot of fun. The only other bar of note was 21, it had a good vibe, and at least was air-conditioned. In comparision Saints Bar, was too hot, and full of English expats. Add the heat and cigarette smoke into the mix and we ended up quickly downing our beers and leaving.

Prague at times seemed overrun with tourists, with Charles Bridge in particular bearing most of the weight of the onslaught. But buggered if I know where the tour groups all go at night, after 11pm there was practically no-one out. And it seems that Americans are travelling again too, for the first time in large numbers since September 11. We've noticed increasing numbers in London, and then this weekend in Prague we were lucky enough to encounter some (obviously not from NYC, M + R). One in particular at our hotel could project his voice with enviable clarity. "Where y'all from?" he asked the table next to him. The entire breakfast room of forty tables turned as one, after all he must have been speaking to us.....

Any hope of a moderate alcohol intake for the weekend went out the window when we arrived at the hotel maximillian and there was a complimentary bottle of wine in the room. Combine that with Czech beer (fantastic - Budvar, Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus and Staropramen.....), lounge access at the airport, and a 3-hour delay to our return flight (thankyou BA!) and my liver is in desperate need of a few days off.

Speaking of alcohol, despite our worst fears and it's notorious reputation, Prague wasn't overrun by stag groups (buck's parties). I think the fact that the World Cup final was on on Sunday affected stag numbers and there are now cheaper Eastern European cities that meet the stag group criteria of cheap beer.

Saturday we attended an opera recital at the Estates Theatre. Unfortunately, it was after our very relaxing Thai massage, so the three of us were sitting there nodding off. I bet the short and halter top-wearing (seriously - at the Opera - where do these people come from?) octogenarians were so jealous. More pics here.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Baiser de la Mort

See, I told you.

And the French don't even have underwear ads to fall back on, like the Italians do.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Allez les Bleus

Continuing my kiss of death in the World Cup, where my support has seen Australia, Spain, England and Portugal fall by the wayside, tonight I'm supporting France. Mainly because they are team full of thirtysomething hacks, who are past their physical prime and should have given up years ago. That's a bit like most of my gay friends, but we still give it a go and so do the French and that's reason enough for me to support Zizou and co.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Gay, Gayer, Gayest......

So it was late, far too late, on Monday morning. The weekend was almost over and Orange at Fire was almost the end of five frantic days of London in summer, at it’s finest, at it’s most alluring. We had started on Wednesday night, with the Pet Shop Boys concert at the Tower of London and here we were Monday morning dancing to the remix of Pet Shop Boys 'Minimal' and everything had come full circle.

It was Pride weekend in London, Europride to be exact, and this year gay men and women from all over Europe had descended upon London to party. We had started our celebrations early by going to see the Pet Shops Boys at the Tower, and it was a mini-pride of sorts, with gay men in particular outnumbering other members of the audience by two to one. We had met early, picnicked and drank Pimms in the moat, then danced and sang along to Suburbia, It’s a Sin, Go West, Always on My mind, Where the Streets Have No Name…. It was excellent. Not even the god-botherer trying to get people to repent as people left the concert spoilt the evening.

Fast forward to Thursday night and Steve had arrived from Rome, we were opposite the Tower on the other side of the river (yes, sometimes we go to Sarf Landarn!), watching Cabaret under the stars with another picnic with friends. The atmosphere was festive and by the end of the film people were singing along and clapping and you couldn’t help but think why can’t things always be like this?

Friday was a break from what Paul, using his usual understatement, had already termed the gayest weekend of his life, as we went to Eton College’s rowing club for my work’s summer party. It was another perfect summer's evening and as a result people spent most of the night outside, watching the sun set over the water and enjoying what was probably our last work summer party.

Saturday there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air, and that was just in our flat. Not only was it Europride, but it was part two of Stuart’s Birthday Celebrations, (I could only attend two events this year, so I only purchased the Gold package). Oh, and England were in the World Cup quarter-finals. After much fighting for the mirror in our bathroom, Paul, Steve and I headed into town to meet Mark, Angel, Stuart and Jari on Regent Street and take up our positions for the parade. As far as parades go it was ok, but the Pride parade (photos here) in London has always been more about participation than floats and music, and this one was no exception. I was carried away by the excitement of it all and bought a pink Union Flag, I hope to be able to fashion it into a sarong or maybe a headpiece for those more formal occasions when beachwear isn't appropriate.

By 14:15 we had had our fill of whistle-blowing lesbians and left the parade to pile into Browns on St Martin's Lane for Stuart’s Birthday Lunch where Jose-Luis and Olivier from Brussels joined us, as did Clayton, Derricks, Don and Suren. We were lucky enough to have Alistair Appleton dining there with his entourage, (he was also in the march) so that provided us with eye-candy. Our waitress was lovely and despite our many invitations wouldn't sit down and have a drink with us. I fail to understand why some people value keeping their jobs above having fun....

Saturday afternoon and evening was a blur of beer and boys, as we met up with Damien,Chris, Ronald, Glen, Lee, Gavin and various others in Soho Square. I thought it was a nice touch that we all celebrated gay diversity by wearing tight t-shirts, Calvin Klein/2xist/Aussiebum underwear and Diesel jeans. We ended up in the Friendly Society for a lock-in, then very unwisely headed down to Vauxhall to dance. Somehow (well, most probably through a haze of alcohol) Steve managed to lose us and left the club alone. He was sitting on our front step when we got home, looking slightly the worse for wear.

Earlier in the evening, we had been to the Royal Albert Hall, for the Europride Show, where the great and the good gathered to raise money for charity. The evening was stolen by the glamourous Heather Small (formerly of M people), whose set got everyone up and dancing and Sir Elton John, who was fashionably late and was introduced by David Furnish. Other performers included Alan Carr, Graham Norton, Jennifer Saunders, Ruby Wax, the casts of Chicago and Avenue Q, Boy George, Sir Ian McKellan and Stephen Fry, amongst others.

Stephen Fry, in particular, struck the right note for the evening – he spoke of how in the 90s, when everything seemed so bleak in Britain for gay men and lesbians, how he spent time lobbying MPs to change laws and he said ‘Their arguments could be reduced to one thing. Love. They were afraid of love.’ And we remembered how different it was back then, when we used to come to the same hall, ironically opposite Victorian England’s greatest monument to love, the Albert Memorial. Then, when Stonewall held The Equality Shows, with equally stellar casts offering their services gratis to raise money to fight for equality. Then, when the age of consent was 21 for gay men, and gays and lesbians were not allowed to adopt, and Section 28 prevented schools even discussing homosexuality, and people could be sacked for being gay, and immigration was closed to gay partners and gay men and women couldn’t serve in the military.

And just how different it is now, no matter what your opinion of Tony Blair, of the war in Iraq, of the constant spin and the disappointments, at least his sense of social justice has prevailed and has dragged this country into the 21st century. Admittedly sometimes with the tabloids still kicking and sometimes still screaming, but gay men and women can serve in the military, and can adopt, and can be civilly partnered, and can build a life with their foreign partners and no longer can be discriminated against at work. Now the age of consent is an equal 16, and Section 28 is no more.

So for us, after Elton had been introduced by his 'husband' and after we had been told we must continue to fight to maintain our rights, it seemed apt and right to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than to go dancing with my beautiful boy, and our best friend. And we had a great night, just the three of us.

And another stunning summer's day ended ended our Pride celebrations. So after not nearly enough sleep, we went for lunch with Steve and then said our goodbyes as he headed to the airport. Paul and I jumped on our bikes and rode to Hampstead Heath, where we lay in the sun, and ate ice-cream and dozed and swam and read. Happy Europride!

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