HERE INSIDE
(Gay) Identity and Future



They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied
Something here inside
Cannot be denied
About this blog
This is my first blog. It's a mixture of weblog and journal, with postings about my life as a gay man, and gay issues I care about. The idea is to talk about my own identity, and about what "gay identity" is now - and is becoming.

The relationship between gay sexual feelings, gay sex, and the rest of life, has always been one of tension and conflict -- within individuals and between gay people. The places where these differences show most acutely are in views and decisions about "coming out" and "equal rights". But what it is to be gay, and what it means to live openly as a gay person, have changed. They're enormously more varied. And so the meanings of "coming out" and "equality" have changed too.

CHARLIE'S
FAVOURITES
LIVING COMPOSERS

John Adams (#)
Thomas Ades (#)
Julian Anderson (1 2)
Harrison Birtwistle (#)
Hans Werner Henze (#)
Magnus Lindberg (1 2)
Colin Matthews (#)
Peter Maxwell Davies (#)
Thea Musgrave (1 2)
Esa Pekka Salonen (1 2)
Kaija Saariaho (1 2 3)
Mark Anthony Turnage (#)


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June 30, 2002
We are going up to London later today to see the new Gibert and George exhibition -- The Dirty Words Pictures (1977) -- at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens:
    The Dirty Words Pictures, 1977 juxtapose graffitied swear words and slogans with disturbing images of urban life and the bleak presence of the artists themselves.
Created the year of the Silver Jubilee, all 26 works are brought together for the fist time -- a "gesture" in the year of the Golden Jubilee. Not, somehow, that I think the Queen and members of the Royal Family are going to be lining up to get in (and G and G themselves have said they would never have been exhibited at the Serpentine while Princess Diana was still alive and its patron). Even 25 years on the bold graffiti of "cunt" and "bollocks" are capable of shocking -- though they are inevitably somewhat in the shadow of the great, scandalous "Naked Shit" collection of 1995 and Fundamental Pictures of 1996.

W. and I thoroughly enjoy Gilbert and George's works ( 1 2 3 ) and try to get to their new shows. The recent collection based on gay escort ads at the White Cube Gallery in the East End in 2001 ( 1 2 ) was very funny, but perhaps not quite as visually arresting as usual, but the Rudimentary Pictures which opened the Milton Keynes Gallery in 1999 (yes, Milton Keynes!) was brilliant -- W. and I were particularly taken with "The Flying Shit Wheel of Death"!:
    ...no-one can forget their infamous Naked Shit pictures that they exhibited in 1995. Those elements are still used today together with other human elements such as blood, sweat, sperm, tears in their work. In Their Element is another scatological classic featuring a double naked Gilbert & George over a background of magnified flies, bird droppings and gum. Or The Flying Shit Wheel of Death featuring 8 splattered bird droppings with a dead pigeon as its axle.
It will be interesting to see a full-blown (sic) retrospective.

We're also planning to catch The Lawless Heart, which has just opened: "When a man dies unexpectedly, his boyfriend, his father and a close friend have to reassess what they want from life." The Guardian says:
    This is one of the best new British films I have seen in the past few years. Writer-directors Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter have contrived a funny, touching, cleverly constructed and beautifully acted film about three men and their lives, in a small Essex town. Douglas Henshall is a chirpy Michael Caine-ish Cockney bloke back from foreign parts; Tom Hollander is a recently bereaved gay man; Bill Nighy is the reticent, emotionally stilted partner in a stagnant marriage. Relationships, gay and straight, are explored with marvellous intelligence and delicacy, Nighy gives a jewel of a performance and Tom Hollander just gets better and better.
I have high expectations! (Showing at: Duke of York's Cinema Brighton; Cambridge Arts Picture House; Filmhouse, Edinburgh; Glasgow Film Theatre; Curzon Soho, W1; Odeon Camden Town NW1; Clapham Picture House, SW4; Rio, E8; Odeon Covent Garden, WC2; Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle).



June 29, 2002
Tim picks up on a June 27th Metafiler thread about gay marriage (arising from an ACLU lawsuit in New Jersey). The quality of the argument is pretty good and the various perspectives are a challenge --- well, it's a change from Andrew Sullivan!





I just came across this amusing comment left on a political weblog (reported here with further discussion):
    In a post 9-11 world, I feel it's my duty as a woman to wear clingier clothing, flirt more outrageously, have more orgasms, and get on top more often. In short, anything that's taboo to the islamofascists.
But what kind of sex play could gay men indulge in to throw sand in the islamofascits' faces? As far as they are concerned, can anything make homosexuality "worse" ?





We're having a week's holiday on the North Cornwall coast. Fixing it up took about an hour on the net, and phone calls to villages all around Padstow, to find a suitable cottage (that is, not any of: sleeps 6-8, children welcome, beach <4 miles, sleeps 10-12, near to piggery, or already booked). We'll be away 5th-12th July, and are much looking forward to walking, beaches, wildlife and visiting the Eden Project (sites: 1 2). Of course, there's the great surfing... which attracts the most hunky -- and friendly -- young guys. I love talking about waves.



June 28, 2002
Everything has finally overwhelmed me like one huge wave. I have just slept for 16 hours straight. I feel another bout of slumber coming on. See you all next time I emerge....



June 27, 2002
Behaving in a less than saintly manner (Rant 1)
Telephone Conversation:
    Charlie: I'm calling about my recently deceased mother's pension and elderly person benefits. Do you deal with that?
    Bureaucat: Yes. Can you give me the name and reference number?
    Charlie: Certainly. [Provides details].
    Bureaucrat: Thank you. How can I help you?
    Charlie: Well, my mother died on June 14th, and one of the forms I was given when I registered her death said I should get in touch with your department as soon as possible to cancel get her pension and benefits.
    Bureaucrat: Oh, I see. Have you ever been in touch with us about this matter before?
    Charlie: Pardon?
    Bureaucrat: Have you ever contacted us about this matter in the past?
    Charlie: No. (Sharply) My mother hasn't died before.
    Bureaucrat: Oh yes, of course.
    Charlie: Shall I start again?
    Bureaucrat: Perhaps you'd better.
I was absolutely astonished that responses of such total brainlessness could occur. I should not have been, though, I suppose. I was dealing with the state bureaucracy. This is the real face of government. Not all the fancy project launch announcements and public target reports -- those are just made up whenever it's convenient.

You need only look at the jobs ads in the local newspaper to see where the latest fad in government intervention (and waste) is located. The are simply hundreds of positions for "community regeneration" workers in the £25,998-£36,752 range (pay scale upward adjustment pending). It doesn't take long to find the self-propelling bureaucratic tentacles of the Neighbourhood Renewal initiative, the Regeneration Programmes and the Community Empowerment divisions of the Urban Renaissance unit everywhere. The tasks these projects have set themselves are grand and open-ended, their scope universal, their ambition vaulting, the reality all too predictable. British bureacracy is hardly capable of removing the skin from a rice pudding, so the idea they can do all that is ludicrous. Imagine the phone calls between London and the inner-city council office complexes...
    National Programme Administrator (Level 6): Have the people of this particular urban area experienced multiple deprivation at these nationally defined levels before?
    Local Neighbourhood Management Facilitator: Pardon?
    NPA (Level 6): Has this specific part of the city ever gone down the shit-hole in the past?
    LNM Facilitator: This part of the city is a new administrative unit -- it didn't exist till you created it two weeks ago.
    NPA (Level 6): Oh yes. Know anything about getting the skin off rice puddings?



June 25, 2002
Tuesday. Today was the funeral. It was held at the crematorium, in a beautiful wooded area outside town. The sun shone, the birds sang as beautifully as I have ever heard. My mother had stipulated a private funeral of family and closest friends – and I greeted this tiny crowd, some of whom I had never met before. W. by my side, meeting my relatives for the first time at my mother's funeral. But they clearly knew just who he was, taking him into their group and talking to him about my mother, and family things, as if he had always been one of their number. I was very touched – whatever they had known or guessed in recent years, they had had no prepartion for meeting, and on such on occasion as this, too.

The hearse drew in. The frock-coated undertakers lined either side. The flowers looked beautiful on the coffin – a huge bunch of white lilies from me, a vast spray of country garden flowers – stocks, wallflowers, pinks, lavendar, roses – from W. When the back door of the hearse was thrown up to take out the coffin, clouds of heady scents enveloped me, almost overpowering, almost painful in their sweetness. The minister appeared and we walked, stiffly but in no special order, behind the coffin into the chapel. I felt absolutely nothing. I sang the hymns loud and feelingly, but their words, that can provoke a tear at almost any time, left me quite dry-eyed. I walked forward and delivered my tribute over my mother's coffin. I began with her name,
    mother, friend. You have been taken from me so suddenly. No more shall I kiss your cheek when I say hello, no more wave up to your window after I say goodbye. How then can I thank you, for all your loving kindness, your sacrifices for me, your hands that held me and helped me? And how shall I remember you when today's most poignant feelings fade. I can thank you and remember you only by living as you lived – by
    finding inspiration everywhere and in every thing around and
    bringing enthusiasm to every task and plan and idea
    living honestly and doing right
    sharing joy and laughter
    discovering new places, in the world and of the mind
    giving love without measure
    seeking happiness
    caring for others
    striving to overcome adversity and pain, and never giving up, and
    most of all, holding on to hope, keeping alive a simple hopefulness, just hoping.
    Farewell, I love you always.
I returned to my seat. I had felt nothing. I had said what I knew I believed was true when I contemplated her life beside her bed in the hospital; when I had wandered round her empty flat, looking at the physical remnants of her life. But I had no certainty just then. Perhaps, I thought, as the minister read the lesson, said the prayers, committed the body for cremation, what I'd said was just romantic invention. It had not been an inspirational life, not elevated or especially wise, nor content. She'd just lived her life as best she could. Wasn't that good enough? A lot of pain, a good measure of happiness; some good chance, a lot of miserable luck; altruism and resentment; warmth and bitterness; compassion and hard-heartedness… Happy memories obliterated this downward spiralling precision, and then recollections of failure, conflict, wasted time and regret returned. What had she thought of her own life? I do not know. The last hymn had been sung, we walked out into the sunshine.


Well, I couldn't hold out any longer. Duncan, Darryl, Glace, Geno, Chris, Frankie and many others have all done it, so...
    Charlie is one of the most highly regarded chefs in America today
    Charlie is currently looking for new writing assignments
    Charlie is the King of all mankind
    Charlie is not alone
    Charlie is an XML application framework claiming to overcome some limitations of current web application architecture
    Charlie is the real star
    Charlie is my darling
    Charlie is gay
    Charlie is known all over the world
    Charlie is a grown man who is the son of parents who "loved too much"
    Charlie is in his mid-40's, a successful software engineer
    Charlie is good at making you laugh, and after you finish laughing, you think, "that's really true"
    Charlie is one of my favorite people
    Charlie is a bad boy
    Charlie is for getting back to the basics
    Charlie is available for adoption
    Charlie is fighting centuries of stereotypes
    Charlie is recognized as a leader who bridges the gap between political parties
So don't fuck with me, right?



June 24, 2002
An item in today's Times on rising alcohol consumption among British MPs concludes with several anecdotes. One features George Brown, the leading member of Harold Wilson's Labour government in the 1960s, who was notorious for his drunken behaviour -- usually decribed in the press of the time as "tired and emotional". Apparently, on an official trip to Peru he approached someone in a splendid, brightly coloured frock and asked them to dance. The reply came: "First, you are drunk. Second, this is the National Anthem. And third, I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."



June 23, 2002
Right, since we seem to be into balancing today, here is the totally tasteless Uncle Vronsky's Guide to Orgy Etiquette which prepares one for the Scandinavian cool springs of Ralf's Apple.XPan -- only in Sweden could such a superb site (with a weekly photo diary) be the work of a train-driver. But then only in Sweden do train-drivers look like Ralf.





Gay Muscle Gallery is a personals site worth visiting! Over 4,500 photos of real-life hunks, with profiles, and links to home pages. At random (from the "A" section) is A Boy Muscle from Rome, Italy. Time-saving (not that I really want to) recommendations are welcome.

And to balance things a bit, I've just come across the London Gay Reading Group: "Since June 2001, once a month, a group of gay guys of all ages meet up in central London, have a drink and discuss a book of gay interest (most of the time fiction). Each month, the book is chosen by a different member of the group." A reason to live in London!



June 22, 2002
Girl with White Dog, 1950-1. (c) The Artist (c) Photo credit, Tate, London 2002I'm really eager to get down to the huge Lucian Freud retrospective that has just opened at Tate Britain (it runs till 22nd September, so I should manage it). There are over 150 works arranged chronologically from the 1940s to the present, including the large series Freud painted of his mother, the impact of which I am especially interested to feel given my current circumstances. As the BBC programme on the exhibition shows, critical comment on Freud is limited - partly because of the artist's own reluctance to discuss his work, and partly, I think, because all his works are portraits. Look at the massive response to Bacon (his friend) who was far more expansive in life, and on canvas.





Various aspects of my mother's funeral arrangements have been taking up a lot of my time and emotional energy. I registered the death and got copies of the death certificate, having been through my mother's desk to find her birth certificate and medical card. The minister who'll be officiating at the funeral (which is at the crematorium) came and visited me to talk about my mother's life, and arrange the order of service. I chose the hymns -- which I thought was quite important. An atheist myself, there are still many hymns which resonate from the chapel services of my school days, but also which have words that touch deep down in the emotional well-springs --- and express the awe and frailty of the human condition, and the majesty and incomprehensibility of the material world. I could not bear to have dreary, implicitly self-pitying affairs like "Abide with me" (the most popular British funeral choice apparently) or "The day thous gavest, Lord, is ended". So we shall have Dear Lord and Father of Mankind to Repton by Parry
    Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
    Till all our strivings cease;
    Take from our souls the strain and stress,
    And let our ordered lives confess
    The beauty of Thy peace.

    Breathe through the heats of our desire
    Thy coolness and Thy balm;
    Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
    Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
    O still, small voice of calm.
and end with Now Thank We All Our God to Nun Danket Alle Gott (Crüger/Mendelssohn)
    O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
    With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
    And keep still in grace, and guide us when perplexed;
    And free us from all ills, in this world and the next.





An absolutely brilliant article, by the absolutely brilliant politics and society columnist Simon Jenkins of the Times -- on the World Cup (*access requires free registration):
    Please not another single-goal result. The next war may yet break out because of a single World Cup goal. In Russia a single-goal defeat caused a riot. In South Korea a single-goal victory led to national frenzy. Italy’s defeat by a single goal yielded catatonic rage. Italy believes it lost not because it was a poor team but through bad refereeing, South Korean duplicity, Fifa corruption and bad luck. In my opinion, it is right...

    In football, the single-scoring incidents are so rare as to be mostly if not entirely a matter of luck. Of dozens of shots in the direction of a goal, a rare one goes in the net. Instead we have an increasing number of often bitterly contested penalties. Penalties are now a regular feature of World Cups. In 1986 three out of four quarter-finals were decided on penalties, and the fourth (Argentina versus England) should have been. In 1990 both semi-finals and final were won from the penalty spot, with one of the finalists, Argentina, scoring only five goals in open play in seven games. In 1994 the final was won on penalties.

    The essence of sport is the objectivity of its scoring system. The alternative, as in ice-skating or Eurovision songs, is to leave results to judges and referees. Football is moving towards the latter category. Results increasingly turn on a split-second decision by a referee. David Beckham’s penalty against Argentina, from a foul that hardly prevented a goal, sent the entire English nation berserk, as if only a god could have scored it. The goal was in effect scored by the referee.
Meanwhile... Spider Man was a really quality film - from the stunning opening credits onwards. Visually rich and dramatically paced, it deserved to be taken... seriously. Tobey Maguire fulfilled all the promise of Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil.



June 19, 2002
The young offspring of the robins nesting in the ivy at the back of the house fledged today. Days of beautiful liquid song, and hundreds of trips back and forth with beak-fulls of little insects, have, for the parent birds, been replaced by nervously watching over the fledglings' ungainly attempts to fly, and their naive unawareness of the dangers that lurk everywhere. The little tree next to their nest is full of other young birds still being fed by their parents -- blue tits, sparrows, great tits, greenfinches. God help any cat I catch anywhere near!





The first occasion that something to do with my mother's death has provided me with a good laugh has at last occurred. I haven't seen my father for 20 years, and I don't have any wish to -- something unchanged by the recent news that he has got married again (aged 76). But his name came up when I phoned my mother's cousin, Diana, to break the news about my mother and tell her the funeral details. Apparently my father and his new wife were at a village function that D. also attended, and one of my father's new wife's nieces (who was visiting form outside the area) asked D. how she knew my father's family. D. shot back "Well, your aunt's third husband [my father] was married first to my cousin [my mother], and she was my husband's father's second wife. She gets around, your aunt." D. and I wondered who would be number four.



June 18, 2002
Rusty went and talked to his mother."I think I want to marry a fireman when I grow up," he said.
Mother laughed uncomfortably. "What a funny idea, Rusty!" she said. "What will the neighbors think if they hear about this?"
Mother talked to Mrs. Brown to see if she had any advice. "I think my little Rusty may be a homosexual," said Mother. "I just don't know what to do."
Mrs. Brown's eyes grew wide. "A homosexual!" Mrs. Brown ran away shrieking. Soon, Mother learned that she had been un-invited from Mrs. Brown's Tupperware party.


"Rusty is a homosexual" is a delightful illustrated story surreally set in the American suburbs of the 1950s.



June 16, 2002
Listening to: O Hum. This group does it for me like almost no other rock music. Energy, textures, rhythms are all unique, but influences range back from today to classic rock. Anyone into rock should give them a try. O Hum (Illusion in Farsi) are three guys in Tehran, Iran. Prohibited by the government from performing or releasing recordings there, they rely on the internet (a group interview from 2001 discusses the music and the obstacles they face). They have a great website, with download pages (and translations of lyrics) for their album Nahal-e Heyrat -- every track is brilliant -- plus two singles from couple of months ago.





Much comment by Disconnected Zeitgeist visitors about David Beckham (no doubt elsewhere too). So here's a link to a wide-ranging page of photos of the national treasure -- including his audition for "Up the Bum" magazine (right), evidence of cut-throat rivalry with Jamie Oliver, and the famous advert for eating disorder charities.





Devon the Escort - NippleplayI was surprised (should I have been?) to come across a group gay porn "professionals" who blog. The prose is not exactly polished nor the sentiments elevated (but photos show that other things are). The (hard)core includes Carlo, Drew, eroticdavid, Joeydi and Devon. The porno-bloggers are all powered by Livejournal, so pages are long and photos need reloading. (it seems that Livejournal blogs -- porno or not -- occupy almost another world to the Blogger/Greymatter/Movable Type "bloc" of blogs. What's the reason - technology? education? subject? style? accident?



June 15, 2002
Thank you to the people who've left comments and who've e-mailed me. Thank you for your thoughts, for your words, for your prayers and wishes. They have been much help when I have felt worst.

At 1.30 pm on Friday the phone rang. It was the hospital – my mother's condition had deteriorated and the consultant wanted to see me as quickly as possible. The phone call and the consultant's request could mean only one thing. I drove as quickly as I could over to the hospital, and was by my mother's bed by 1.50 pm. I could see from the scanner that her blood pressure had completely collapsed. She was breathing fitfully. The consultant -- a big rugby-player looking man with a tanned, moustached, cheery face -- had his "concern" expression on. He thought her heart had simply given in, unable to bear the strain. He essentially explained why further efforts were worthless, looking for my implied consent to withdraw life support. The nurses hovered. I didn't want my mother to suffer. He gave instructions to the nurses, then put his arm round my shoulders for a moment – sympathy, courage – and was gone.

I sat by my mother for the next three hours. I'd left a note at home, and when W. returned from work he came straight over and joined me. I had gone through (I suppose what is) the usual tearful litany – thanks, regrets, apologies, love, devotion. A son taking leave of the mother he loves, who cannot hear him, doesn't know he is there. Eventually I dried up. I sat holding her hand, bending my neck to kiss it from time to time. Crying silently from time to time. I thought only half an hour had passed - it was two and a half. Her breathing came in tiny little gasps, the scanner showed her blood pressure falling towards zero. Then her breathing stopped – only the minimal pressure of the breathing machine inflated the lungs in a slow rhythm. Her head fell sideways, her face frozen. The nurse said she would not turn off the breathing machine until the heart stopped. A few minutes later the scanner showed zero heartbeat, breathing support was stopped. My mother had died. I was still holding her hand. The nurse and W. went out.

I sat alone with my mother's body for a while, leaning over and placing one last kiss on her warm forehead. Then the nurse reappeared and told me the doctor needed to examine the body. I waited twenty minutes and was allowed back for a final communion with the body which my mother's lifeforce had so recently inhabited. They had taken the tubes out, cleaned things up a little, though she still bore the scars and bruises of the needles and plasters and pads and other paraphenalia of the futile efforts of the last ten days. Her lips were a little blue, but otherwise she looked as in life, her hair swept back so beautifully from her forehead. I could have stood there for ever, gazing. Eventually I forced myself to leave, and W. and I drove home, each in our own cars.

Today W. and I went strawberry picking in fields a mile out of town. It is early in the season, and there has not been much sun, but we gathered a basket of ripe fruit -- many a bowl for the next few days. My mother loved fresh strawberries. I would always take her a goodly portion each time we went picking thoughout the summer. She missed them this year by only a couple of weeks. Afterwards we went to her flat. I emptied her fridge and threw away all her food; telephoned friends to tell them the news; took her mail from the box and opened the bills. W. picked up the beautiful Easter cactus and brought it home. On Monday I will need to arrange the funeral.



June 14, 2002

My mother died quietly this afternoon at 4.50 pm. She had never regained consciousness. I was by her side when she died, and W. was with me. I love her, and I love the memory of her. She will live in my heart as long as I live.




June 12, 2002
Listening to: Frank Sinatra - Songs for Swingin' Lovers (#) Too marvellous for words!





"Every gay neighborhood that I have ever been to has been home to the most fabulous of frock shops!" Is this a recent quote from Aleksander Knavs (just before he buried his boot into the crotch of Spasoje Bulajic of the Hoecakes team)? No, it's Frankie, aka Pop Tart, putting Gay Richmond (VA) on the map. Commercial real estate will never be the same again.



Jim's meeting with Elvis Costello is a great story. And checking out my favourite EC song again, it was a nice coincidence -- given that I just did the Jung Typology test -- to come across these lines
    Don't start me talking
    I could talk all night
    My mind goes sleepwalking
    While I'm putting the world to right
On the personality test I got the result ENFP. It "checks out" so closely (like the Scorpio astrology sign) that it made me laugh out loud, especially when the analysis said: ENFPs hate bureaucracy, both in principle and in practice; they will always make a point of launching one of their crusades against some aspect of it. But it was nice to learn that when not "putting the world to right" my kind of personality types are friendly folks. Most are really enjoyable people. Some of the most soft-hearted people are ENFPs. So I'm a big softie, OK? And if you don't like it, you can eat shit and die, motherfucker!



June 11, 2002
Keith has the cool idea of putting up links to his "best looking players" from the galleries on the FIFA-World Cup website. Perhaps gay boggers could put their own squads together and then think of some appropriate way for them to play one another! Here are the first selections for the Here Inside team: Tristan Diego (Sp), Marko Simeunovic (Slov), Raul (Sp) and Aleksander Knavs (Slov) - click on the photo for details.

   





I've had an e-mail from Tarantella Serpentine (aka Marcus Lanyon). He commented:
    I wondered how long it would take before someone made the obvious connections between my artistic stance and the queer ethos, the other and beneath. And yes, the sting is in the tail - Cheltenham Spa! Oh wonderful Conservative Cheltenham, home to little old me, unbeknownst to the population, running around in London and Eurorock in Belgium, causing all manner of consternation. Yum.
Here Inside has decided to make Tarantella Serpentine "musician in residence", and will try to bring regular progress reports.



June 10, 2002
It's a few hours short of a week now since my mother was taken into hospital. Four days ago I spent some time with the doctor in overall charge of her care, who essentially prepared me for her imminent death. I thought it would come in 24 to 48 hours. But she remained stable, getting neither better nor significantly worse. Over the past few days there have been dips - they had to put her on new medication to support her heart, but today they have felt able to discontinue it. Her blood tests come back every day with poor results, but they aren't deteriorating. Her stomach and kidneys are in failure, but that's unlikely to cause a sudden crisis, and there is some (small) chance they might improve again.

So it's possible that she will be maintained in intensive care for quite some time -- weeks, even months. As long as they do, my life will revolve around going to the hospital at least twice a day, sitting beside her and occasionally talking to her, listening to the machines blip and looking at the tangle of tubes leading in and out of every part of her body, asking the nurses for a daily report -- and being ready at to rush over there at a moment's notice if they call me to say she is a lot worse.

Yesterday I went to her flat with W. We watered her plants -- will she ever come back and see them? Who are we watering them for? Her Easter cactus (which belonged to her own mother, who died in 1980) is in bloom. I wish she could see the lovely little pink flowers on the ends of the broad, shiny green leaves. The flat is so clean and tidy, as she left it, her clothes for the next day laid out on the sofa in the living room. I have left untouched the bed where she was when she became so ill. It reminds me of the extreme discomfort and anxiety she felt then, moaning and calling out, bewildered by the severity of her sickness, unable to stay still. Then I think of her now, calm, untroubled, in the care of others.

I am aware that this "faux serenity" leads me into idealising my memories. She has always been a wonderful, powerful, devoted mother. But when I was young she was so forceful that I had to fight a terrible, failing battle for independence, that only finally achieved success through my distancing myself from her, by moving away and choosing my times for contact. When, many years later, and an adult with much experience of life, I returned to my hometown to live with W., we still had to guard against me being overpowered by her. It was something she never understood, and only quite recently came simply to accept. She could be terribly demanding, and -- enduring great loneliness and increasing disability -- at times resentful. I need to remember these things to balance all the rich loving memories (of support, shared pleasures, and laughter, that were real and frequent and truly worth cherishing) lest I create some soap-opera fantasy to match the unreal TV-hospital world of the intensive care unit, with its high-tech medicine, devoted nurses, heroic doctors, and perfect patients.

Walking round the flat both kinds of memories came tumbling over one another as I looked around, opened drawers, glanced over papers in the bureau. And then I am hit by the sheer mundane quality of it all, far removed from the psychodrama of youth and the hermeneutics of memory -- the rent book, housing association questionnaire, the electricity bills, bank accounts, notes of things to do. I shall soon need to pay attention to these things to keep my mother's "life plants" from dying (though will she need them again?) If she dies, I shall have a million loose ends of her day-to-day life to tie up, pay off, and sort out. That is going to distress me far more than anything in the hospital ward, or in juxtaposing images in my mind. It will be a detailed, unsentimental termination, that will culminate in someone else moving into her flat -- the flat where currently every square inch is saturated in her -- possessions, clothes, efforts, ways of doing things, tastes. I already hate whoever that will be.



June 09, 2002
Well, I'm not sad all the time (just much of it!). Life goes on -- for me anyway. I still go to Sainsbury's on Saturday (now calm once more), and try to check round my favourite blogs. A propos - I can't resist showing this photo (courtesy of Kenny in Georgia) - now if ever I saw a dumb attempt at police entrapment, that was it!

With the total national saturation in football, I am prompted to report a Channel 4 TV programme I recently discovered. Called Football Italia I guess it is just a way of showing more soccer. (It shows how much I follow these things -- according to the Guardian, Italian football has been on Channel 4 "for almost a decade, and is a hit with advertisers seeking to reach a young, upmarket male audience.") But for me, with all those unfamiliar team names and stadia it felt almost like an anthropological investigation. It certainly turned that way at the end. The players run for the tunnel, but the fans are already invading the pitch, desparate for some physical memento of the match and their favourite players -- in fact, their clothes. The only thing the players can do is oblige, and they are literally stripped as they make their way off. Shirt, vest, shorts, the lot. Some of the players were already pulling their clothes off to barter their way across the pitch before a single fan was anywhere near them. Most ended up naked but for their underpants well before the tunnel. I wonder if they ever lose even those! Anyway, it seemed a good reason to watch (despite my lack of interest in football generally), but of course, it's off the screen during the Wor*d C*p. I just wish they would get the Japanese business over and done with, so I can get back to watching Inter and Lazio players forcibly stripped in public!



June 07, 2002
I've been visiting my mother in hospital several times a day. She is hanging on, but things seem to be getting steadily worse. Yesterday her kidneys began to fail. Today her heart beat is getting irregular. Her blood shows higher levels of infection. She could stay alive for quite a while. But the chances of her recovering and waking again are small, and getting smaller. Only the tubes and blipping machines tell you this is what is happening. You can't tell it from looking at her face. She lies peacefully, her face calm. I sit beside her, and from time to time I talk to her. What can she hear? Nothing I think, and I suppose really I am saying those things for me: "Thank you for being such a wonderful friend. When I need to talk something over, some problem or disappointment, you always understand immediately what it's all about, and what's getting me down. You always say things that show you know just how I feel, but you never try to tell me what to do. You listen to me and support me. Thank you." I talk about all the things she's done to help me. About laughter and good times. And occasionally I tell her I know she'll get better. That I'm there, beside her, and I won't go away. That I love her.

I will miss her so much. But at the same time I know that for her this is a peaceful way to slip away. She has had a long life, and was still living in her own lovely flat, with beautiful views and big light rooms. We recently had such a great holiday on the South Coast. She visited places she knew when she was young, we went for boat trips, walked by the sea. It was perfect. The one thing she feared was to be reduced to utter dependency by a stroke or similar illness, unable to walk or talk, or even feed herself. That hasn't happened. I want her back, now, so much. I want to have my mother to visit and talk to and laugh with. But I can only be happy that what is happening now is not her nightmare.



June 05, 2002
Suddenly, out of a clear sky... On Monday my mother phoned me saying she felt ill and needed to be taken to the doctor. It was no problem - she got a prescription and filled it, and I drove her back home. Just over 12 hours later I was awakened by her emergency alert service. I quickly got dressed and went to her home. She was very unwell, and after about an hour I called the doctor. He came quickly and was very concerned. He was unable to get sufficient pulse to take her blood pressure, and had her admitted to hospital immediately. The ambulance arrived in minutes and I followed it by car. It was 8 a.m. On the emergency admissions ward they did a million tests and procedures, and told me to come back in the afternoon. I went over at 4 o'clock and she was ready to go to theatre. I kissed her and told her I loved her very very much. She smiled and said she wished she could swill her mouth out. I haven't been able to speak to her since.

She was admitted straight to the Intensive Care Unit from her operation. She had suffered peritonitis. Her whole system was infected. She has heart trouble for several years and some other conditions that were making her recovery much harder. Her blood pressure was so low she was ice cold to the touch -- hypothermic -- and so she was wrapped in a blanket pumping warm aid round her.

I've been to see her quite a few times in the 24 hours since then. She is on a breathing machine, connected up to monitors and a hundred tubes carrying things in and out of her body. Despite all that, he face is calm and almost peaceful. She is sedated into sleep and lies still, the only movement the steady rise and fall of her chest as the air is pumped in and out. There are more nurses than patients, and each bed is watched over all the time. I spoke to the doctor and he was concerned, espcially about the effect of her other conditions. A very warm and open man, and a powerfully competent doctor, and it was not hard to hear from him that my mother's chances are poor.

I can't talk about my feelings. I don't seem to have many. I can't talk about my thoughts. It would mean telling her life story. I can't talk about what the future looks like - it overwhelms me. I love her dearly, and she has been the most wonderful mother to me, and for the past eleven years to W. as well. He came with me tonight to stand by her bed, and he cried all the time we were there. Although she is not conscious, I talked to her a little and said I knew she would come through, and that when she was better, we would have a really good laugh together. Perhaps her sub-conscious heard me, or recognised my voice. She has fought -- and often against ill-health -- all her life. Perhaps she will pull through. If she gets a lot worse the hospital will call me, day or night. No call yet. I hope there isn't one.



June 03, 2002
Partner W. adores anything about gardening -- books, TV programmes, magazines, catalogues, shows and exhibitions. The result is that he wants to be Gertrude Jekyll and Alan Titchmarsh and the Chelsea Flower Show. But we have a tiny garden in the front of our house. As a result the contents are constantly being added to and changed, and all kinds of exotic and unusual plants (some of them very large) are crammed in. Every Spring there is a different display of bulbs (one year aliums, another huge concentrations of single-coloured tulips, unusual daffodils) and last Summer there were 250 massive, heavily scented lilies in an area where 50 would look over the top. Bee-attracting plants get total priority, so there is a constant humming noise. I don't know a thing (it takes me ages just to get the plant names right and often we compromise with my jokey next-best efforts) -- and the only reason I watch Gardener's World is to see the really cute, very masculine (and very possibly gay) presenter Chris Beardshaw (who also has a series exploring gardens in a helicopter). At home I just get drafted in to help with re-potting and watering.

But I love the outcome -- I adore it. I'm so proud of W. The thing I like best is that his (our) garden attracts a huge amount of attention. People walking past often stop and look, and couples often point different things out to one another. What I really love is when both of us are doing something -- like today we were re-potting the banana plants - great floppy, tropical things (the plants, not us) -- and people see us together, and there is only one possible way to read it. Two men of the same age in their little garden, absorbed in their work and one another. People sometimes stop and chat and ask what something is, or compliment a particularly fine specimen -- and of course it's W. who immediately starts to tell them about things, and discuss all the different plants. I just stand looking on, glowing with pride, and occasionally chime in with a little comment. And when I'm doing something on my own, like watering, passers-by often ask me something, and I have to say I don't know -- it's all my partner William's work. To me the garden is a coming out, us being together for ourselves but in public. It's positive and attractive, and people are delighted or intrigued, and they move towards us instinctively, becoming part of our world for a little while.



June 02, 2002
Home Secretary, David Blunkett, according to the Times (1.6.02) explicitly endorses views expressed by assassinated Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn:
    The Home Secretary said that like Mr Fortuyn he believed in diversity through integration... and compared Muslim forced marriages to the backward looking practices of the aristocracy in Medieval England.
David Blunkett has always been known as one of the Labour MPs least supportive of gay rights -- he did not support lowering the age of consent, for example. I wonder if his admiration for Pym Fortuyn means that the next thing he will announce is a complete change in his views on homosexuality; or if he is just hiding behind Fortuyn (conveniently for Blunkett, dead) to make noises that voters will like the sound of. I'm not holding my breath. Assimilation through positive engagement with the dominant culture is a perfectly respectable position. But Blunkett has never been interested in that. His record on immigration issues, and statements about them, is opportunistic and unprincipled. In line with that he doesn't attempt to explain how he understands Fortuyn's political outlook, how he would relate him to British politics, or on what basis he would evaluate him and his views. He rips off Fortuyn's name, but can disown him as a whole if (as is probable) Labour MPs complain. We should worry if a shit like that started to say he did want to actively promote gay equality.



June 01, 2002
I've just spent the last eight hours on my usual Saturday round of drudgery: shopping, washing, ironing, cleaning, watering the garden, gossiping with neighbours (less than 1% by volume). I guess I normally quite enjoy it - it's nice to feel useful, it's a change from more stressful obligations, and my weekly excursion to Sainsbury's is usually an opportunity to gently re-provison the house and flirt with the cute young male staff and check-out boys. Not today. The shop will remain open all over the holiday period; it will be constantly re-stocked; and prices aren't about to rise. None of which stopped hundreds of women (most accompanied by "difficult" children) from sweeping every edible product from the shelves. Some women were pushing two trolleys, one with each hand -- in some cases one was simply filled with piles of sliced loaves and gallons of milk. What's gripping them? Can't they tell the difference between June and Christmas? Do they anticipate nuclear armageddon while the World Cup is in progress? Have they suddenly been gripped by an obsessive need to feed stale bread to birds on Tuesday?

The bakery was stripped bare:
Charlie: What's the matter? There's ususally plenty of bread at this time.
Store assistant: I know, and we've baked three times the normal amount today.
Charlie: So what's the story? Has everyone been gripped with an uncontrollable need to stuff themselves with bread at both ends till they pass out?
Waiting customer: [Very embarrassed giggle]
Store assistant: I know... I'm exhausted.
Charlie: I'm sorry - but I just want to put bread into one end of myself, and in moderate amounts.
She managed to find me a loaf and a packet of 6 wholemeal rolls -- I don't even like wholemeal that much.

The fresh fruit was ravaged. The only pasta was penne (and there was an unlimited quantity of that -- clearly an unpopular shape). The checkouts were long lines of groaning trollies jammed so you couldn't get past, and difficult children acting up ("Darling, please don't do that, you know it makes mummy cross." It pushed me close to murder.) Not a hope of a nice little chat with one of the cute Saturday boys, who looked as if they were about to explode. Meanwhile, outside, it was the warmest, sunniest day of the year so far. At the end of it all I had a headache in the back of my head, that got steadily worse, and ruined the ironing (which is usually my favourite job). But then I reminded myself -- all the straight men are sitting round drinking beer and shouting at TV sets -- so I should count my blessings and be thankful, even for days like today.





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