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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December 31, 2002
Picture of Japanese festivalFELIZ AÑO NUEVO

Drunken and near-naked young men have been running up and down the highway outside, getting cars to stop and hoot. How English, I thought, disapprovingly -- while straining to watch every moment. In Japan it would all have been much more organised: January means male nakedness, with the masochistic frisson of trials and rituals in icy water. Whatever, we are getting ready to leave for our holiday in Barcelona. We'll be back on the 11th January 2003, so blogging on "Here Inside" is suspended till then. In case nobody has sent you a 2003 calendar -- indeed, even if you are buried under them -- there is a good choice here. Happy New Year!


PUBLIC CONSULTATION

The commenting tool I had been using for the last nine months became increasingly unreliable, and while I didn't really mind too much about that in itself, when it was down it was taking the whole site down with it. I have noticed this happening on some other sites and find it very annoying.

I have therefore installed a new commenting system for a trial period. If it proves no more reliable, I shall have to consider what to do. In the meantime, I do apologise to those of you who left comments using the old system. Please don't hold back from commenting with the new one, and especially, please let me know of any problems you have with any aspect of the comments pages, or with accessing the site itself.



December 29, 2002
REALITY CHECK II

I've always loved Kenny, and I love him all the more after his blog post on December 27th.

I went to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and simply adored it. Really the only question for me was whether I adored it more or less than The Fellowship of the Ring. But Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Electrolite posted this stimulating examination of some of the issues the film has given rise to.

Many people were rightly sickened by Lord Woolf's new sentencing guidelines, in which a first offence of burglary is no longer a crime worthy of imprisonment. In this article Michael Gove makes some extremely acute comments on this, and some other aspects of crime in the UK today.

In the US one of the most controversial current issues is civil liberties versus anti-terrorism, and it reverberates in the UK and informs some of the antagonism to President Bush. So this post and comments are especially worth reading.




Photo of Aaron EckhartPOSSESSION

Just back from seeing Possession. I like Neil LaBute, and here he produced a strong, well crafted and enjoyable film, involving without being taxing -- which was a surprise given that A.S. Byatt's book, on which it is based, didn't attract me in the least. Much of the success came from the all-round excellence of the performances, and especially from Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Toby Stephens played a "villain" with the usual panache, but after Die Another Day will be ever play anything else again?

You can always find a gay angle (or metaphor) when the plot of a movie involves forbidden or secret love, but the only one I think worthy of note is just how fabulous Aaron Eckhart looks throughout the film, with three days' growth of beard and eyes that implore you to join his achingly taut body in bed -- which Gwyneth Paltrow promptly does. The scene where he strips and swims into the waterfall is so arousing and yet so clean!

But such sexual credibility is important for the narrative conceit, which moves back and forth between the present and an incandescent Victorian affair. From the nineteenth century Jeremy Northam's smoulering intensity and Jennifer Ehle's courageous surrender provide direction and commentary for the contemporary struggle with modern ideas about sexual equality and the emotional-intellectual demands of committed relation-
ships. Hey -- it was heavier duty than I realised at the time!




REALITY CHECK

Anyone at all interested in how American politics and law really work should check out this site - it touches on an amazingly interesting array of topics, and has excellent links both in the postings and on the sidebar (it's also another rather slow-loading site).

Will Hutton's Work Foundation (promoting statist objectives which I am not in sympathy with) nevertheless has an inter-
esting semi-independent project called iSociety (researching "the impact of ICT in the UK, with special emphasis on technology in everyday life, at home, in communities and at work") which also runs iWire, an 8-author blog that does what the Guardian blog should do, and much better.

Photo of Shirley WilliamsIf you want to see why British Universities are incapable of fees reform, the discussion in this article from the January Prospect Magazine makes it clear. Round and round they go until they disappear up their own backsides. Shirley Williams (currently Lib Dem leader in the House of Lords, who I remember as Minister of Prices and Consumer Protection [!] in the 1974-79 Labour government introducing 1p and 2p retail subsidies on bread and milk as a solution to hyper-inflation -- that was just before she was made Education Minister) comes up with this fantastic solution to the problems of British higher education funding: "You need a small increase in general taxation. I suggest 1 or 2 per cent on the higher 40 per cent rate." Spectacular Shirley! Where do you get it from?




HONESTLY, AND WITH FEELING

James Crabtree (one of the iWire bloggers) wrote this article in the New Statesman a couple of months ago, repeating the claim that "neo-conservatives" have been allowed to get the weblog scene sewn up -- and I remember some similar, more questioning comments by Mike a little while ago. As a corrective, Chris Bertram's blog Junius has loads of level-headed argument and well-informed discussion, and also shows that the range and reference of "political" and "ideas" blogs is far wider than might be imagined.

What I think is also interesting, however, and not properly explained, is that among "everyday" bloggers (who follow their interests and enthusiasms, and pick up and respond to news of all kinds, while principally concentrating on establishing their own identities through personal and journal postings) a liberal, and certainly an anti-Bush political orientation is widespread and taken as the "norm". It is expressed in asides and passing comments, rather than frontal attacks or sustained invective. Views are (usually politely but firmly) defended and expanded if challenged, but rhetoric is generally eschewed and unwelcome, and an easy-going tolerance prevails.

Perhaps this is more true among blogs by gay people (where at times I feel somewhat alone with my libertarian-conservative leanings), but in my blogging around all kinds of journals and personal blogs I don't think gay blogs are that different. Younger people's blogs are less ideological and more "common sense" than older bloggers, but also likely to be somewhat more substantively "right leaning" on specific issues. It is only in the field of wholly and explicitly political, high-octane controversy blogs that conservatives (or neo-cons, or libertarians) have a high profile, influential presence.

How is this disjunction possible? Probably most people -- especially younger ones -- don't care about, or want to write/
read about party politics and political organisations (though on their own blogs they will not be shy about stating their views where they have them). On the other hand, professional journalists and politicians don't really care about your life or mine, they simply want to fight and score points. But (and this is where the real difference lies) "everyday" bloggers do surf around and follow links more than anyone else, and where they detect real personal emotion and sincerity, or a level of even-handedness that extends to admission of error or variety, they connect, no matter what the ostensible political affiliation or purpose. That is why I think some of the libertarian bloggers (and even Andrew Sullivan) get read way outside their "natural" constituency, and earn endorsement on specific issues. But that doesn't change people's broad outlook, or how they vote, or turn them into foot-soldiers of the right.

If professional leftists are unhappy with their own influence, it is because they are still concerned only with traditional political debates, changing people, winning elections, and forcing society into their model -- not connecting at a level people care about. They lack material with which people feel they can identify. Nothing is more symptomatic of this than the jargon-ridden buzz that emanates from their postings, and the totally unconvincing (and palpably insincere) defence of one absurd example of political correctness after another. That is all part of mis-reading history to support their own self-serving version of events. In other words, they never learn.

But something still puzzles me. Given Michelangelo Signorile rebutts anti-gay and anti-liberal views, point for point, on a weekly basis -- a kind of "equal and opposite force" to Sullivan -- why is it that I never come across a single link to his articles?




Photos of Somerset House Courtyard with fountains and as skating rinkSKATERS AND OLD MASTERS

Apparently in the late 1950s the Courtauld Institute Gallery, housed then in Woburn Square, acquired the reputation as "London's best-kept secret". Since 1989 it has been exhibited at Somerset House (which has stolen the back-handed compli-
ment for itself). W. and I visited while we were in London the other weekend, and were absolutely astonished by the wealth of great modern art -- as well as renaissance masterpieces and medieval altarpieces -- to be seen. But it was the ice-rink in the recently restored Courtyard that almost everyone else had poured along the Strand to visit. With us in the galleries were just a few German tourists quietly but earnestly discussing the works.

The size of the collection made it possible for me to immediately identify works that strongly affected me and concentrate on them - like this Adam and Eve by Cranach the Elder that was new to me. It immed-iately set up resonances with his Cupid and Venus in the National Gallery. Bellini's Assassination of St Peter, which fascinated me, also apparently has a "com-
panion" in the National Gallery (and I shall make straight for it next time I'm there).

Pechstein, Women at the SeaI loved the paintings by Veronese, Tiepolo and Van Dyck - favourite painters of mine anyway. And at the top of the building the 20th Century rooms hold extraordinary treasures, which like the old masters, greatly enhance the works by the same artists in the National Gallery -- wonderful (and sometimes very famous) paintings by Cézanne, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Seurat and Renoir.... and another discovery for me in Max Pechstein, who in 1919 painted this rich and original Women at the Sea. As the skaters bumped into one another, fell over or glided envy-makingly around, we promised our-
selves to return often.



December 28, 2002
Photos -  Fred With Tires by Herb Ritts and Self Portrait by Robert MapplethorpeHERB RITTS (1952-2002)
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE (1946-1989)

Herb Ritts the American photographer died in Los Angeles on Thursday (26 Dec) aged 50. The cause of death was given as "complicat-
ions of pneumonia", a well-recognised phrase used for AIDS. It is impossible to guess on how many walls in gay homes posters of Fred with Tires (1984) has hung. Ritts's career idolising beautiful bodies and creating fame ran like a counterpoint through the 1980s and '90s to the destruction of body and success wrought by AIDS.

Ritts's life forms an uncanny symmetry with that of Robert Mapplethorpe - a gay photographer whose portraits of entertainment celebrities stood alongside his explicitly erotic work. Mapplethorpe's lifestyle, work and death stand as a symbol of the "first" phase of the AIDS epidemic, following hard on the uncontrolled hedonism of the 1970s and seared into the memories of survivors by its inevitable fatality, horrid symptoms, explosive increase, and life-wrecking consequences, creating a world of misery, para-
noia, rejection, exclusion, prejudice, self-hate, loss and grief.

Ritts can perhaps be seen as a symbol for gay men of the second phase of AIDS -- when medical science has understood the disease's viral origins, drug therapies eliminate or vastly ameliorate its typical symptoms (and seem to promise indefinitely to prolong life), panic has abated, constructive assistance has largely replaced social hostility, and concern increasingly has moved to the fate PWAs in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World -- and yet gay men in the West continue to die.

Photo by Herb Ritts - Male Nude with BubbleThe growth of Mapplethorpe's artistic reputation, and of Ritt's own status and the frequency of his exhibitions occurred as the worst horrors of AIDS receded, softening the savagery of Mapplethorpe's imagery and blurring the (unintent-
ional) irony of Ritts's muscular torsos. So there is a deeper irony in Ritts's death, coming as the urgency of self-protection and eroticisation of safer sexual practices has slackened, and the flight from reality -- that was always present in the gay response to AIDS -- has reasserted itself. Ritts's death might well give pause to those who engage in and promote and collaborate with barebacking.



December 27, 2002
E-mail imageTHE DECLINE AND FALL OF E-MAIL?

Shortly after changing the "Here Inside" e-mail address I came across this interesting recent (and very slow to download) article. It says basically that all the standard e-mail software is hopelessly out of date. Not only is spam, the biggest problem, an ever-increasing one, but so are viruses, managerial message overload, lack of integration, and filing and searching old e-mails. Address books, the object of many a viral attack, are hardly functional. I would add that the subject field is a disaster.

Does this mean that e-mail is "heading for a fall", as some suggest? Or, will someone with ideas and programming talent sort it all out and make a mint, all the corporate disincentives notwithstanding?



December 26, 2002
CONTACTING HERE INSIDE

The old "Here Inside" e-mail address has finally been sub-
merged in spam, and has been discontinued. The new contact address is HereInside2003@aol.com. All links are in the process of being updated.




HENRY VII WAS HALF WELSH, HALF RUSSIAN

What with all those Robbie Williams calendars and 2003 diaries that emerged from Christmas wrapping, the mind turns to passing time and the dreadful symbolic chronology of the twenty-first century. How strange then to learn that everything is much more recent than we had ever imagined. A group of Russian mathematicians inform us:
The recorded history of mankind started not earlier than the year 900 A.D., while the majority of historical events, which make our history, refer to the time after the year 1300 A.D. The tradit-
ional history of ancient times consists of multiple recounts of the same events scattered in many locations at various times.
I confess myself not completely convinced, but the illustrat-
ions are quite charming. Not enough? Follow an analysis of civilising events in time, by a Polish mathematician, which also proposes an original understanding of history:
There were no real kings in Great Britain before Henry Tudor because preceding rulers were addressed as Your Grace or Your Serenity. Henry Tudor himself was titled as Your Highness and only his son Henry VIII became His Majesty. There is also a strong suspicion that “half-Welsh” Henry Tudor was a close relative of John III of Russia, and that all preceding history of Britain is invented by Sir F. Bacon and Co. and promoted by the genius of Shakespear or rather Shakes-PR. On the other side the history of Russia was creat-
ed by Catherine II herself and her coworkers, and finally edited by Nicolaus I in the 19th century.
Why aren't we taught about this in school?



December 25, 2002
A R RAHMAN, ILAYARAAJA AND CHER ROCK

What with the Naked Blog Great Gays, BBC's Great Britons* and all the Hit Parade anniversary polls (of which Chig's was the best by far), 2002 has been a year of lists. Not to be outdone, the BBC World Service has announced its listeners' favourite song. As the BBC admitted, efforts were made to rig the result -- and they were clearly successful, as an Irish Republican anthem came first, ahead of a patriotic Indian Hindu song. In 7th place was "Reetu haruma timi hariyali basant hau nadihruma timi pabitra ganga hau" by Arun Thapa, and "Believe" by Cher was 8th. The top songs from Europe were "Wind of Change" by the Scorpions, followed by "The Ketchup Song" by Las Ketchup. 150,000 votes were received from 153 countries, nominating over 6,500 songs.

* The Here Inside "100 Greatest Britons" has been suspended during the Greatest Gays project, but will resume soon.




GREAT TO BE GAY

Peter has published the results of the "Greatest British Gays" blogpoll. The Top 10 includes Noel Coward, Quentin Crisp, Elton John, Ian McKellen, Alan Turing and Virginia Woolf, while the Top 100 is like a night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.



December 23, 2002
CHRISTMAS CONVERSION

I always knew Santa was a Protestant, and Christ drove a truck, but I think these take the biscuit -- or wafer! Many more at Gadgets for God (with thanks to Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light).




Photo of penguinsHAPPY CHRISTMAS FROM HERE INSIDE!
"THE PENGUINS FIGHT BACK"

This game (by Oleg Savchuk & Alexey Mas in the Ukraine) is so cute! All you have to do is click to drop fish onto the ice, so as to guide the penguins onto the raft on the right -- in greater numbers than they are jumping onto the ice on the left. Download it from the game page or direct from here (700KB).



December 22, 2002
CORNWALL SNAPS

At last here are some photos I took on holiday in North Cornwall in June - two pages each with nine pics...

first page is on the coast (includes John Betjeman church).

second page shows the cottage where we stayed, and visits to the Eden Project and Lanhydrock.

Click on the map link on either page to see the locations.
Left click on the thumb-nails for a full-size pic in a pop-up window - left click anywhere on the pop-up to close it. Same for the map.



f.y.i. We thought North Cornwall was great. Much less developed than the rest of Cornwall - indeed, hardly developed at all -- even little holiday meccas like Padstow (with its celebrity chef and his restaurants). Magnificant out-of-the-way surf beaches like Hayle Bay, Polzeath (not to be confused with the one near St Ives), and astonishing vertiginous (not to mention car-scraping) villages like Port Isaac; we saw badgers out at dusk, and every kind of sea bird; the fantastic beaches either side of Padstow Bay were bliss on the few hot days, and the walk to St Enodoc's church, where Cornishman Sir John Betjeman (subject of a controversial new biography) is buried was delightful.

By contrast, the Eden Project was, in a word, shit. Boring and limited, the Hot House at Kew Gardens is far more interesting. The car parks dwarf every feature of the landscape, while gargantuan coach parks disgorge elderly day-trippers from Yorkshire by the thousand. The best moment is looking over the whole thing from the entrance. After that it is endless queue after queue afer queue. I was there on a relatively quiet day and it was hell -- a total rip-off.

So the quiet civility of the National Trust's Cornish flagship Lanhydrock was very welcome. It was used for many scenes in one of my favourite films, Twelfth Night with Toby Stephens. More charming creatures were seen at the Tamar Otter Santuary (where there were also, unexpectedly and delightfully, some wallabees). But the best thing was the quiet and the valley view from our cottage. Complete, total, utterly restful peace. Nothing else compares.



December 20, 2002
T-shirt photoDIRTY CHRISTMAS
I've been told "Here Inside" isn't always populist enough. So, to lower the tone at Xmas, here is a site with cartoons everyone can enjoy -- including all the sickos, who'll love Nasty Santa (and his farting elves). Then send for this T-shirt - a great present.



December 18, 2002
BIRTHDAY BOY

Rob in Canada is celebrating his first year blogging (he's a few blog months older than me and a lot of calendar years younger). Take a look at the most wonderful re-design he's done to celebrate it, and read the lovely things he has to say.


Picture of KeithHE'S EVERYBODY'S

There's coming out and there's coming out -- and then there's having your face all over the home page of Fridae (the Asian "gay.com"). That's what happens unless you check the box so you can't be "profile of the week" - as our gay blogger buddy Keith in Hong Kong now knows. Click the link to Fridae above to see, or go straight to his profile. If you want to get to know him better (and I bet you will!) just send him an e-mail. He'll be able to tell you quite honestly that you're one in a million


BUST A GUT

We have all just totally cracked up laughing at this. (It's Kenny's Christmas present from Georgia - what a guy!)



December 17, 2002
Photo of CD CoverLISTENING TO

Benjamin Britten's Our Hunting Fathers, brilliantly original settings of stunningly savage poems by W H Auden, sung with merciless precision by Ian Bostridge. One of Britten's little-heard materpieces.




Photo of a GoldfinchOPEN SEASON ON INTEGRITY

This gave me a particularly hearty laugh. How nice it would be for the tables to be turned. I loathe all hunting. Idiots firing guns into the sky all over Europe inflict untold suffering, and Malta has one of the very worst records. It's very bad news that "traditional patterns of hunting and trapping which evolved as a result of Malta’s particular circumstances" have won out in the negotiations for Malta's admission to the EU. This is tragic for birds like goldfinches and linnets. But what rankles even more is the self-satisfied hypocricy of EU officials and Commissioners. No doubt they're getting ready even now to give approval to Poland's annual slaughter of migrating swans.




Photo from the Quiet AmericanTHE QUIET AMERICAN

At the weekend we went to see The Quiet American. Screenplay, direction, performances, and cine-
matography were all first rate - so Greene's moral and personal dilemmas emerged in a powerfully involving way. As the pre-release controversy promised, Michael Caine's performance was outstanding -- indeed worthy of an Oscar nomination (the possibility of which was the force which drove Miramax to release the film despite post-September 11 cold feet).

There's no doubt that when Greene wrote the novel in 1955 (one year after the French empire in Indochina collapsed at Dien Bien Phu and at the very start of the country's North-South division that was the real basis for US involvement) he was making an essentially anti-American statement. But it is worth trying to understand what point he was making, without superimposing the subsequent history of the Vietnam escalation (the film's excellent period authenticity is compromised by its final frames, which extend the happy ending of its central romantic narrative into the 1960s, with newspaper headlines from those years).



December 16, 2002
Photo from The Two Towers


We've got our tickets for The Two Towers -- Saturday evening 20th December. We've very excited. (A 1489 x 929 pixel version of the pic is here, and a 744 x 464 version is here.)




QUALITY LANGUAGE

Bureaucatic prose is necessarily verbose, redundant, repetitive, mendacious and meaningless, and this is no less true in the state management of the universities, as Higher Quality, the bulletin (apparently named without any ironic intention) of the QAA [Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education] demonstrates. The latest edition includes these comments by the head of the agency:
    Is quality enhancement the new quality assurance? A new and influential committee, the Teaching Quality Enhancement Committee (TQEC) has recently been looking at the roles of the three higher education organisations that have the enhancement of teaching and learning as their main concern - the ILT, HESDA and the LTSN. This is an important development, not least because it shows clearly that higher education is taking seriously its stated commitment to continuous improvement (i.e. always trying to doing things better).

    One of the interesting features to have emerged from TQEC's work is the distinction it has drawn between 'quality assurance' and 'quality enhancement'. Although this has been done mainly for convenience - so as to recognise the particular and unique role of the Agency in the quality assurance landscape - it nevertheless raises the question once again of what quality assurance actually is.

    The QAA does have an important role to play in the enhancement of the quality of higher education. To do this we must make best use of our own resources and so we are reorganising the Agency's internal structure, removing the barriers between our various internal groupings, encouraging inter-group activity and making best use of the impressive knowledge, expertise and talent that our colleagues bring to their work. The development of our new, more active liaison programme with institutions will also help us to achieve this goal. The one thing we will not be doing is duplicating what is already done by others. We will, though, be co-operating with other agencies, offering what we hope will be perceptive contributions to the debates that they will be leading.
Just imagine what transport policy documents are like!



December 15, 2002
HAIRSPRAY, LIPSTICK AND RACE

The latest edition of Feminism & Psychology includes an article entitled "Talking of Taste : A Discourse Analytic Exploration of Young Women's Gendered and Racialized Subjectivities in British Urban, Multicultural Contexts". Want to know more? Well...
    The article presents an analysis of interviews conducted with young Asian and white women living in urban, 'multicultural' areas in the UK. It explores how these young women constitute their own and others' differently gendered, sexualized and racialized identities and subjectivities through their talk about styles of appearance and tastes in, for example, clothing, clothing labels, hairstyles and cosmetics. In so doing, the article aims to elucidate, first, some of the complex intertwinings of gender and ethnicity in these young women's accounts and, second, the equally complex and shifting politics of gender and ethnicity, which are simultaneously constit-
    uted, subverted and reconstituted in these young women's talk about styles of appearance
    .



December 14, 2002
REMINDERS, MEMORIES AND ABSENCE

It's exactly six months since my mother died. I guess I still think about her every day in one way or another, but not with any particular intensity or pain. When W. and I cleared her flat we sent nearly everything to the sale rooms or the charity shop, but we kept quite a lot of useful kitchen things for ourselves. It's funny that I eat every day with her knives and forks, eat off her plates, dry up with her tea-towels. Yet I hardly even register the fact any more.

A week or two ago I was given a box of Quality Street chocolates, which W. and I had no difficulty polishing off, except for a few shapes and colours that were my mother's favourites, which by habit we didn't touch. This time, as we reached the bottom of the box, I found myself eating the purple-wrapped brazil nut centres for the first time. They were nice. Finally all that was left were the coconut ones in their green wrappers, which neither of us like, so they were thrown away. They were my mother's favourite of all.

Since 1994 my mother had always spent Christmas with W. and me at our home, so this will be the first Christmas for 8 years without her. In many ways it makes life immeasurably easier, since there are lots of things we did to make it a "family" Christmas that we certainly won't be bothering with this year. But all the same, it would be worth it if she was here to enjoy it.

The strangest change, which has started quite recently, is that sometimes, especially when I feel tired or a bit overwhelmed by all the things I have to do, the thought runs through my mind "all I really want is to join her, and be with her again". It's quite irrational, since I am not in any way suicidal, and have no wish at all to die. Not only that, I am an atheist, and I do not believe there is any prospect of my own personality or that of my mother surviving death. Yet I find it strangely comforting that this thought comes, even as I know it is quite without any power over my actions. I think it is an expression of loss, prompted by the instinctual (and indeed irrational) depths of my mind. It is also perhaps a "symbolic" and emotionally charged expression of the way in which I feel my mother's absence most. I do miss telling her things, answering her questions, explaining what I am doing, going over my ideas, telling her about my life at all the levels and in all the locations I live it -- because she wanted to hear about me, because I was me.




Photos of a beaverSHARED LIVES

On Wednesday David Attenborough's wonderful series The Life of Mammals [PDF download] was about rodents. I would have loved to swap places with him, in his canoe in Wyoming, watching beavers carry out dam maintenance, fell trees, and come and go from their lodge. These beautiful, intelligent creatures (which could be reintroduced in Scotland), which live for up to 20 years, at age three find a mate for life, and then literally build a life together, sharing all the work equally between them. That is pretty rare among mammals, and I couldn't help finding it an affecting spectacle -- for all that it is grounded in reproductive instinct, one that spoke to me emotionally.



December 12, 2002
BarcelonaBARCELONA

All the people I told a couple of weeks ago that W. and I have arranged our first visit to Barcelona in the New Year were ecstatic for us. Everyone had a favourite thing to do, favourite place, favourite cafe -- it got us really excited about the prospect. Since then I discovered Robert Hughes's extraordinary book Barcelona, and the film Barcelona, and now I've found A Photographer's Guide to Barcelona which displays an amazing array of scenes in full-size photos of simply breathtaking quality (though without broadband there could have been problems downloading the single page with 87 "thumbnail" JPGs of 20KB or so). I'm getting seriously worried that nowhere can live up to the kind of expectations we're building up.



December 11, 2002
FOR RICHER FOR POORER

The Sparky-Rooster "alliance" has caught the imagination of many a blogger, and with good cause. How much easier it would make all of our partnered lives if gay couples enjoyed the same kind of financial benefits that heterosexual families enjoy. IGLSS has looked into the costs to employers in the US of extending healthcare benefits to gay partners. It makes very interesting reading for gay couples anywhere, and provides firm evidence that there is little economic reason to deny equality.




Photo of Tom Coates - Gay BoyQUEER AS A COATES

I am delighted to oblige Tom Coates and scream from the blog roof-tops that he is GAY. Visitors to plasticbag.org (his really sharp blog) should always remember Tom is homosexual through and through (and that he is currently [!] available, though anyone who might be interested should note that Tom recently wrote on Here Inside "I hate having my nipples fiddled with. Just makes me want to punch the person concerned" and keep the tit-clamps in their pocket).




HOME AND AWAY

I've always thought home-exchange holidays were a good idea, and the kind of people and places likely to be involved hasn't suggested to me that being gay would cause particular problems. But house swaps with other gay couples would make things much easier and more likely to be a success, so it's good to see such a listing service being offered. And its fun just to fantasise about staying in homes like this or this or this.



December 10, 2002
Photo of Angelika Kirchschlager (Sophie)Nicholas Maw's Opera Sophie's Choice
WHAT DIFFERENCE WOULD IT HAVE MADE?

William Styron's Sophie's Choice has become a modern classic, discovering the horrors of the Holocaust through the progressive revelations of Polish Auschwitz survivor Sophie, now living in Brooklyn. Like the book, the 1982 film starring Meryl Streep weaves a 1947 domestic romance between three characters whose personalities embody the clashing forces of the mid-twentieth century world crisis. In a mesh of lies, concealments and confrontations, they try to find love and new identities in America. From a storyline of gathering tragedy, told in flash-backs and recollections, there emerge the strands tying them to their pasts, deranging their relationships, making a nonsense of their choices. Jewishness, science and medicine; the South, segregation and lynching, sexual passion; Christian family, Polish anti-Semitism, and Nazi resistance and collaboration. As the story unfolds we realise with growing horror how these narratives are related, driven by the great forces of psyche and history.

The conventions and constrictions of music drama, and its potential for intensity and depth, demand that action be concentrated, and its symbolic content enlarged -- that music convey the emotional and intellectual meaning of dialogue, itself often poetically expressive or reflective. Maw's opera Sophie's Choice did none of this. It was an extraordinarily long (over 31/2 hours) setting of a tediously, at times absurdly wordy text. Despite adopting the book's time structure, no musical features distinguished Brooklyn from Aushwitz, or explored the many layers of identity within each character.

Towards the end of the opera, when Sophie's cataclysmic choice is revealed and reenacted, there is no sense of musical momentum or climax. So, when she asks whether it would have changed things had she sacrificed her son rather than her daughter, her existentially defeated conclusion that it would have made no difference lacks any musical means to convey the utter desolation that leads soon to her suicide. Such disjunction between the musical and dramatic worlds that left me uninvolved.

There were two brief passages when Maw's musical idiom (unmistakeable throughout) achieved the kind of fervency his early works showed he was capable of. Once near the beginning and once near the end of the opera someone reads verses by Emily Dickinson and dramatic moment, poetry, scene, character and motive, poetry, reflection and emotion all come together with the power that is opera. It shows what a disaster it was for Maw to provide his own libretto -- his own dramatic structure and dialogue simply failed to inspire him.




MANNERS MAKETH THE TRICK

It is to Marcus that I always turn for the relentlessly unsentimental self-revelation that is the bedrock of romantic choice. Few stories strip away the pretensions of false emotion more brutally than his affair with a classical pianist. Every morning he was gently roused from slumber by the caresses of Mozart's sublime piano sonatas. Yet for all their exquisite beauty, Marcus could not imbue them with the romantic charge to sustain their appeal at that time.
    "Oi for fuck sake hombre, could you stop playing that piece of shit, I’m trying to get some sleep here!" he shouted.
    "But you said you thought I played beautifully" said his hurt lover.
    "Yes, but I was horny and needed a fuck." Marcus ripped away the veil. And five weeks later, Marcus reveals, the pianist dumped him. It shows how long we will stay where we are so much unwanted that it took five weeks rather than five minutes. But perhaps he was horny and wanted a fuck.



December 08, 2002
Works by Keith TysonWRITING ON THE WALL

This year's Turner Prize has been won by Keith Tyson. He presents a somewhat wacky (that is, laboured and contrived) pseudo-philosophical questioning about "human existence" and "the complexity of the world we inhabit". A wall of posters heavy with reference includes a "spoof" Times for a slightly smaller world. Bright and friendly, the works invite self-congratulatory involvement, without any suggestion of insight, profundity, original humour or universality. It is parochial, ephemeral, art-student stuff.

I'd looked at this year's exhibits over the weekend. Fiona Banner showed a large transposition of the text of the pornographic novel, Arsewoman in Wonderland, and two other large expanses of writing. Dreary and interminable, I couldn't be bothered to more than glance at them. Was that the point?

Liam Gillick, Coats of Asbestos Spangled with Mica, Installation at Tate Britain, 2002Liam Gillick's specially-made installation Coats of Asbestos Spangled with Mica suspended a rather pretty grid of coloured light over a case of technical drawings. Dreary and interminable, I couldn't be bothered to more than glance at them. Was that the point?

Catherine Yass lowered a camera to the ground "from a crane over a construction site at Canary Wharf through thick fog", and then (supposedly to add to the "perspectival distortions") screened the resulting film (Descent) upside down. Dreary and interminable, I couldn't be bothered to more than glance at it. Was that the point?

CommentsInterest in and respect for the outcome of the Turner Prize has not risen since the "scandals" over Tracy Emin and her bed (and similar exhibitions of unaltered detritus, that have often aroused disgust and sheer incomprehension). But there was none of that this year and apart from an outburst from Culture Minister Kim Howells, it was a uncontroversial. But even those of us who are most sympathetically interested in new art struggled to discern what aesthetic values motivated, controlled and found expression through the objects and installations presented. In past years sculpture has dominated, but this year most exhibits were "flat", and almost all involved complex wordplay. What could one make of these exhibits if one did not read English? What purely spatial qualities did they possess? How could the inbuilt ordering of imagery escape the tyranny of time? What prospect do they have of enduring more than a few years? A room offered visitors the opportunity to leave their comments on uniform sheets of paper that could then be hung on the wall in regular rows. It was (as one visitor had pointed out) as worthy of the prize as the exhibits.



December 05, 2002
Off to London tomorrow to see Nicholas Maw's new opera at Covent Garden -- Sophie's Choice conducted by Simon Rattle, and take in the Gainsborough exhibition and a look at the Turner Prize selections at Tate Britain, look in at Fifteen (Jamie Oliver's new boy-power restaurant) and the White Cube gallery near Old Street, and perhaps find time for a something a little risqué late night. My only anxiety is that we are going by train. Next Blog report on Sunday.



December 04, 2002
A STAR WHO'S CLEVER AND CUTE

Peter's Greatest Gay Brits is at the first vote phase -- if you don't cast your ballot you won't have the right to comment on the outcome (well, you will, but you know what I mean). But please choose Professor Peter Coles as one of the 20 you vote for. He is professor of Astro-Physics at the University of Nottingham and a member of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Astronomers, has written a book about Einstein and the total eclipse, and is incredibly cute. Could anyone be better qualified?

Via Legacy comes this extraordinary story. Which does it say more about - modern art, galleries or Germans?



December 01, 2002
MARCUS BY ANY OTHER NAME...
...WOULD STILL HAVE SHIT HIMSELF


Marcus, author of the most hilarious, popular and linked-to incontinence story in the history of blogging, reveals that his real name is Frodo-Sven Cummerbund Simpson (or something like that -- and "Marcus" is just the initial letters of the names of the first six men he fucked with, I think). But his wondeful, reeling story of confused (and confusing) nomenclature confirms just how important our names and nick-names, and what we are called, are to our identies, self-esteem and comfort... and how important it is for us to decide them (parents notwithstanding!) And it confirms that Marcus, finding delight and humour in the most mundane and the most sordid of those gratuitous twists of fate that are our lives, is far and away the most romantic blogger of all.

But names... from Shakespeare to Dickens our classic writers have defined and commented on their characters through their names, but never has this been taken to more bizarre extreems than by Monty Pyton, whose Bruces sequence exploits national and macho identity in equal (and barely exaggerated) measure. The "Upper Class Twit of the Year" sketch gives us such outrageous concoctions as Simon Zinc Trumpet-Harris, Nigel Incubator-Jones, Gervaise Brook-Hampster, Oliver St John-Mollusc, and Lady Sarah Pencil Farthing Vivian Streamroller Adams Pie Biscuit Aftershave Gore Stringbottom Smith. Yet there is still a top further to go over, when they ask why is it that nobody remembers the name of
    Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern Schplenden Schlitter Crasscrenbon Fried Digger Dingle Dangle Dongle Dungle Burstein von Knacker Thrasher Apple Banger Horowitz Ticolensic Grander Knotty Spelltinkle Grandlich Grumblemeyer Spelterwasser Kurstlich Himbleeisen Bahnwagen Gutenabend bitte ein Nurnburger Bratwustle Gernspurten mit Weimache Luber Hundsfut Gumberaber Shonedanker Kalbsfleisch Mittler aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm




Pic of pantyhose"OK, YOU'RE RIGHT ABOUT MY PHILOSOPHY" (HORATIO)

Where else but on the Hosiery History page can you find the Gay Step all-round control spandex pantyhose, and who else but Yodeling Theresa would be singing "I'm Gonna Yodel My Way To Heaven" [mp3 download], and where else but in the groaning cornucopia of urban75 would you find photos of Birmingham (UK) and New York (NY) and the Downing Street Fighter game.

Picture of nipple clampsBut only on Here Inside will you get to discuss the question - are gay men more into their nipples than straight men? I was talking to a friend yesterday who said (in a context I won't digress to provide) "Yeh, my tits go straight to my cock". I think many of us will know just what he means. Stimulation of the nipples across a wide range of sensory thresholds (from the gentlest tongue-tickling to the most ferocious clamping) seems to initiate a qualitative and quantitative rise in arousal. Given this is a physical, rather than a psychological phenomenon, one might have expected to find its pusuit equally among straight and gay men. Yet it seems to be a far more common gay practice. Is that the case, and if so, why should it be?




Picture of a glass dildoARSE OF GLASS

The amazing 3 Bruces (which I discovered thanks to Mark) report the latest example of modern capitalism's ability to serve every "need" and even provide competitive choice. The artefact in question is the hand blown (sic) Pyrex glass dildo (butt plugs and an array of other sexually invasive tools are also available). Phallix Glass products are
built to last a lifetime, hypoallergenic, dishwasher safe, non-porous and tempered for high durability
and include the juicer range (blue, mini and ribbed) and the fist, while Clear Ecstasy, in addition to "the world's first thousand dollar dildo" (which they claim is "based on a poem by William Shakespeare and inspired by the fiery female form" and is "actually about 75% art and 25% sex toy"), also offer a huge choice of more mundane (and less costly) models.





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