(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.


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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July 31, 2003
(from A Roman Catholic Love Story)

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has today published Considerations Regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons with the full approval of Pope John Paul II. It initiates a campaign against gay unions, and gay people -- it is the formal start of a war, and the Pope is issuing an international call to arms:
    Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society.

    Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.

    There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

    In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
Q1.What words best describe the Pope?
Q2. How should gay people treat Roman Catholics?

July 29, 2003

An American TV public service announcement made in the 1980s shows a man in a dinner jacket, who speaks on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD):
    I'm proud to live in this great, free country and I'm proud of our commitment to free speech. And I'm proud of our country's commitment to protecting the rights of its citizens to work and live free from bigotry and violence. That's why I was amazed to discover that many people die each year in anti-gay attacks and thousands more are left scarred, emotionally and physically. Bigotry has no place in this great nation, and violence has no place in this world, but it happens. Prejudice hurts, kills. Please don't be a part of it.
Which showbiz star was it who felt concerned enough to make that advertisement? Surprisingly, perhaps, it was the late Bob Hope.

July 28, 2003

The World Body Painting Festival held in Seeboden-Millstättersee in Austria concluded yesterday. The work of photographers and the event photogalleries are extraordinarily comprehensive.

It would appear that the vast majority of those having their bodies painted were women from Germany, while the body "artists" and photographers were men. Among the sponsors were Lipton's Tea, Kodak and ... (you guessed) the European Union, which also helped fund "Bodies in the Scenery" (see it to believe it -- likewise the gruesome photo of the month). Much more information is available on the wide-ranging Bodypainting site (unfortunately mostly in German), but the photogalleries speak for themselves.

July 23, 2003

Isn't this the cutest little piece of javascript?

50 Things That Made Me What I Am

5. Tom of Finland   The pornographic cartoons of Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen in 1920) have for several decades held a special place in the imagery of gay men across the world. Their world of leather-clad muscle-boys, bikers, and cops, giving and taking with delight every imaginable twist of bondage, S&M and penetrative domination, seems to be displayed on the walls of gay bars on every continent. There can hardly be a single edition of a gay publication that does not hi-jack or imitate his drawings in at least one advertisement.

Detail of drawing by Tom of Finland
                           [full detail]

The very second I saw a drawing by Tom of Finland I was riveted and electrified --- and awakened. From the very first instant my eyes fell on it, I recognised that it connected with and expressed an elementary part of my sexual personality. I wonder how many other gay men have had the same experience - hundreds of thousands, I would guess. For many immersion in Tom's fantasies of exaggerated masculinity (with physiques equally impossible and arousing) represents the extent to which they enter the world of leather sex; for others they are a first step to their real-life enactment. Either way, for me there was no element of incomprehension, no gradual corruption by insidious sadomasochistic seduction --- as much as anything was already there, waiting in the dark of my psyche to be illuminated, this was. Some years later I came across the ideas that particular "circuits" in the brain are already connected -- genetically or in the earliest period of life -- and spring into life when the switch is thrown. It was a description I immediately connected with my experience of Tom of Finland.

Tom's work continued to appear in new (and ever more erotic phases) for many years after I first discovered it. Its availability, and its influence, gradually took it out of its difficult and unmentionable sub-cultural niche and into the "mainstream" of gay life, and it played no small part in the parallel transferral of the homosexual leather sex scene itself from the special vocabulary of gay sexual mores into everyday "straight" society.

As this occurred Tom's work, alongside Mapplethorpe's, was beatified by the guardians of artistic validity and aesthetic taste (a develoment not unconnected with the price which originals were fetching) and -- somewhat awkwardly nevertheless, in my opinion -- it began to be talked about as the oeuvre of an original creative artist. At the same time biographies and retrospectives of Tom's work began to be published, and although commentary and interpretation was most appreciative and incisive in gay publications, once again the mainstream began to "notice" his general significance.

Back under the stone of the S&M sub-culture, Tom became one of a "stable" of hyper-realist S&M cartoonists with Etienne, the Hun and several others. To the extent that these artists have established an original, personal style (and sexual imagination!) they have achieved success alongside and with Tom. But they have never come near to challenging his expressive bravura, nor has their novelty displaced his intrinsic freshness.

Indeed, it has always been a mark of Tom's impact on me (and a comment on those processes of adoption and elaboration) that the erotic charge of Tom's drawings has neither dimmed over the years, nor lost its edge with repeated viewings and autoerotic utilisations. I remember very well the first Tom drawing I saw, and it excites me as much now as on that day back in 1975 (even though much of the Tom's most intense work had not yet been produced then). What a reassurance (albeit of the most ironic description) of the endurance without diminution of those internalised images that speak most completely to our sexual drives, and so keep love alive.

Tom's technical mastery is, of course, the key to the power of his imagery. But it is a testimony to Tom's symbolic distillation of the mythic Graeco-German athlete-warrior in male homosexual instincts that narrative and character are so important and involving. Tom's milieux literally breathe unifying sensibilities, and enmesh one in the interplays of universal sexual games: youth and age, flirtation and rape, innocence and experience, transgression and punishment, hierarchy and chaos, conformity and rebellion, in which challenge, assertion and submission are played out through numerous sexualised symbols of authority, especially uniform. How many gay men are comprehensively turned on by Tom despite themselves? How many will admit it?

July 21, 2003

    Dr Kelly approached his superiors within the Ministry of Defence to admit that he had met Mr Gilligan. He was questioned by officials for five days, and warned about his conduct. He was then named in a letter from Mr Hoon to the BBC on 9 July. The name was leaked on the same day. As well as being questioned by two Commons committees, one meeting in private, Dr Kelly had to move into a safe house provided by the MoD for several days, to avoid the journalists outside his home near Abingdon
Not surprisingly the TV, radio and press have omitted to scrutinise their conduct towards the late Dr Kelly, rather than the substantive claims and counter-claims about the veracity of his statements and BBC reports. We can only imagine what level of abusive invasion press attention reached for it to have been necessary to move him to a safe location; or what distress and fear on behalf of his family such hounding by the press would have occasioned. We all know, surely, that encampments of news journalists mean petty bribery across the whole neighbourhood to discover ways of gaining access to the property of the jounalists' prey, or to extract any scurrilious, sensational or speculative information about their object, or his family, that serves their vicious and mendacious methods. The suggestion that this such conduct is in the public interest is as reputable a claim as the idea that pulling the wings off flies is principally a pest-control measure.

Appearances and evidence before committees of MPs might not be intolerable for a long-serving civil servant -- but the British press corps in full war cry would destroy the life and morale of many a stronger man than Dr Kelly. Such is conduct of a press that, as media commentator Roy Greenslade said, lacks all standards. And they call for the Prime Minister to resign!

July 20, 2003

Pictures from Cindy Sherman and the film Four FeathersThree weeks behind with the alterations to our house, and the workermen from one of the best building contractors in the area continue to destroy more than they create. So far they have
  • broken the boiler (no hot water until all the radiators have reached take-off temperature -- so we are driven to use as little hot water as possible)

  • poured wet plaster all over the hall carpet

  • installed a new shower and then immediately broken it

  • gunged up the CD player with dust having failed to seal the room it is in

  • blown all the upstairs fuses, and

  • broken the cooker (and so far failed to act on promises to mend it)
We just have to get away, so we are heading down to London to catch the Ciny Sherman exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery before walking over to the Royal Albert Hall for tonight's Prom - a concert performance of Michael Tippett's King Priam (which I last saw 20 years ago when Kent Opera gave it one of the (homo)sexiest productions I have ever seen - no hopes of that tonight!). We're hoping that both will make up for the dire expanses of The Four Feathers which we inflicted on ourselves last night -- despite the presence of Wes Bentley, Rupert Penry-Jones and Alex Jennings it was almost as bad as watching the builders fill the fridge with cement!


Ananova has recently reported some fascinating survey findings.

A poll of the residents of Baghdad found that 50% thought the US was right to invade Iraq (as against 27% who thought it was wrong), despite the fact that only 27% of the same respondents thought that one of the motives was to liberate the Iraqi people.
~ 26% said they felt friendly towards the British and US forces and 18% said that they were hostile, while 50% said they were "neither friendly nor hostile".
~ As far as occupation was concerned, 31% said the US forces should stay for a few years, 25% that they should stay about a year, 20% that they should leave within 12 months, and 13% that they should go immediately.
~ With resepct to the future, 36%, said they would like to see a Western-style democracy, while 26% wanted some form of Islamic rule "tempered by modern ideals of justice and punishment", and 6% favoured strict Islamic rule with mullahs in charge. A core of 5% favoured Saddam.

There were other extraordinary revelantions:
~ Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen came first among "male celebrities women secretly fancy but pretend not to" - a fascinating concept. Apparently these wowen have "a Mills and Boon-esque desire to be seduced by a man with a Prince Charming hair who won't moan when you suggest a shopping trip to Ikea."
~ almost 25,000 people had sex at this year's Glastonbury Festival, 56% on Friday night
~ 19.1% of 18-30 year olds admitted to drinking almost constantly when they went on holiday
~ 7% of Norwegians change their underwear only once a week (and some less often) making them the "dirtiest people in Europe"
~ and offices have been rocked by these findings:
    One in three workers have come close to leaving their job because of the irritating habits of their colleagues. A list of the most annoying behaviour included listening to voicemails on speaker phone and swearing at computers. Virtually everyone said they hated being sent an email by someone sitting a few feet away."

July 19, 2003

"Do you have blood on your hands?" a piece of sub-human scum journalist shouts at the Prime Minister. Mr Blair responded in the only way appropriate, but had he been free to say what the journalist should have heard, he would have said:
    "No, I don't. But you, and all your colleagues do. And not just on your hands. But oozing over your lips and dripping from your genitals as you pander to the worst in everyone, debasing evrything you touch without restraint or conscience. You deserve to be treated as you treat others, but to let your blood would contaminate the earth it on which it fell. Hang your head and crawl away."

July 18, 2003

Since I got back from Sardinia I have been having a very enjoyable time with old friends and new discoveries. The
2 Blowhards have been up to their usual standard - and as that is superlatively high (indeed, few if any are higher), it means there have been some unbelievably good reads about an incredibly wide range of subjects.

Then I have lost count of the number of wry smiles that Alan's Oddverse Journal and Peter's Naked Blog have elicited, while Marcus's hilarious (and ruthless) self-inspection in the blog mirror reminds me time and again that, for all the possibilities for deception, disingenuity and arrogance, the principal benefits I derive from blogging come through struggles to achieve personal integrity.

I have also added some new destinations to the side bar. Mike in Colorado is both a pretty rare bird and as average a (gay) boy from next door as you could hope to find - a product of, and a moulder of his times; Tyler from North Carolina could hardly be more different; Zbornak a great read and a delicious side-bar. I've been looking in on Groc, Ulterior and Invisible Stranger for a while now and it's time I made it easier for me (and anyone else) to get there!

The number of blogs (let alone gay blogs) that there are around with which I can say I pretty much agree (especially if they include any immediate political content) are few and far between - Dean and Richard are rare examples, while I find that Peter and I see eye to eye as often as one might reasonably hope. But then finding reflections of myself, or entering sterile, endless, petty strings of diatribes isn't my thing. All the same, Peter has recently raised a serious question - what do you do when the divergence becomes too great to ignore or treat with the tolerance one hopes one will receive oneself:
    Just what do you do when someone writes opinions on their own site that you find yourself in disagreement with? Serious disagreement, I mean - we're not talking wallpaper patterns. So serious that you know you have to sever future communication with that person - even though they've meant no harm to yourself.
Quietly take the link off the sidebar? Post an angry writ of disassociation (as if anyone cared, and drawing attention to the whole thing)? Deal with it privately? Get so depressed you give up blogging?

July 16, 2003

As a kind of follow-up to the last post, people can come up with some most unlikely statements and assertions. How much do such unambiguous and emphatic (but de-contexualised) quotations lead us to re-evaluate their authors? This quiz not only tests your knowledge (factual or intuitive) of the great and the good, but prompts a few re-thinks too -- question 4 is particularly interesting.


A new collective blog called Crooked Timber has recently been started by a bunch of intellectuals of the liberal/egalitarian left, most of them university teaching staff in one of the English-speaking countries. A recent post by Maria Farrell, complaining on Bastille Day about unpleasant conduct by (some) "French" men near to where she lives, has unleashed a torrent of sub-feminist racial bile the likes of which I havn't come across from even the most rabid of so-called conservatives. Here are some of the comments:
    The urban Frenchman does not hold his liquor well. (#)

    [After identifying the men who hassled her as Turkish, Indian/Pakistani, black and Egyptian.] A lot of (white French) people here would probably say the guys who hassle women the most aren’t ‘French’, which horrifies me. As a good little social democrat who supports more open immigration policies, it’s hard for me to come out and say, yes, there is a racial/ethnic aspect to this. But there is. (posting author)

    I have always been of the firm opinion that the average French male is the purest example of a total ass-hole existant among the human race. Even your average American shit-head is generally just ignorant. The French know they’re pricks. (#)

    I’d recommend moving somewhere bourgeois, to be honest, with good streetlights. (#)

    i’ve been to france several times and by preference hang out in the areas full of the naturally tanned, and have never had any particular problem. the one place i experienced hostile sexual harassment 24/7 to the point of not being able to have a sandwich in peace was naples, and they were all italians… (#)

    Why is it uncomfortable to acknowledge the ethnicity of the jerks in question? Some cultures stink, and many cultures stink particularly badly when it comes to treatment of women. Unfettered immigration of people from areas where misogynistic cultures prevail is going to lead to an increase in misogyny... The left should... actively proselytize members of other groups to [fix what is wrong with] their cultures...(#)

    That’s going a little further than I’d like to... We have plenty of Arabs and Pakistanis in London and they’re no trouble at all. There’s something about specifically French culture that seems to encourage poor behaviour toward women. (#)

    Thanks SO MUCH to everyone for their thoughts and advice! (posting author)
The "naturally tanned" - now is that PC or just downright offensive? As for Daniel Davies (the socialist blogger DSquared) declaring Arabas and Pakistanis in London "no trouble at all"... And these comments are littered among suggestions for women taking self-defence lessons - one of the most ridiculous discussions I have ever read. The posting and the comments come from the same group that excoriates and ridicules President Bush's every statement on race.

July 15, 2003

Photo of Shirley BasseyAs she celebrates 50 years in showbiz Dame Shirley Bassey is appearing at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, bringing out an album, making rapturous stage appearances, and auctioning off her fabulous gowns for charity:
    Bidders will be able to tussle over such magnificent confections as the Diamond Dress, encrusted with Swarovski crystals and trimmed with lilac ostrich feathers. Or its matching floor-length cape, made entirely of tiered purple ostrich feathers. Or indeed the gold-and-silver sequinned and beaded gown, forever associated with her theme song for Goldfinger.
But unlike Liberace the outrageous costumes were never more than a visual expression of her vocal personality. More than any other British singer Shirley Bassey has, among other astonishing feats of musical empathy, articulated the dramatic heart of gay life -- she is a massively upbeat Edith Piaf and an unalloyed national treasure. (With thanks to Duncan for the gown auction link).

50 Things That Made Me What I Am

3. Eric Berne and 4. Paul Tillich  I guess we all have an existential crisis of greater or lesser intensity and duration at some time in our lives, often as adolescents or young adults. What does it all mean? How can we make sense of our lives, of the world, of death? How can we achieve peace of mind, or relief from unhappiness, despair or failure? In some respects, of course, those "issues" remain active elements of our intellectual-spiritual development throughout our lives, but at some points they assume a particular importance, and the search for solutions an explicit, directed and dominant feature. Two writers of theory and self-help guidance acquired special significance for me. Neither is as well known or regarded today as they were when I enountered them, and it seems to me unlikely that a young man looking for "answers" to personal and eternal questions would turn to them now.

In the late 1970s, when I was in my late teens, I found being gay more difficult than ever I have subsequently. Other openly gay teenagers (or even completely secretive ones) were not thick on the ground and my longings for a boyfriend of my own age were never fulfilled. But driven by instinctual need (and an almost ideological fervour) I sought out attractive partners among the large numbers of men in their mid-20's who could be found in gay bars all over London. It was not a particularly successful quest either, and I was not sure which was more depressing -- not picking anyone up, or some of the people I did succeed in going home with. Occasional "relationships" lasting a few weeks or months gave rise to terrible tension and apprehension, which I hadn't the least idea how to cope with.

Since my early teens (and indeed even before that) I had been familiar with the ideas of Sigmund Freud, and though I rejected much of his work as self-evident nonsense (in the case of homosexuality empirically as well as theoretically) I did accept what I saw as the central tenets of his system -- that what might be called "psychological self-knowledge" led to personal freedom and happiness; that everyone might benefit from such insight, not just those with severe behavioural or personality problems; and that the process of descovery involved some kind of "talking therapy" with another or others. So it was natural for me to look to psychotherapy for a way forward, and friends put me in touch with a remarkable gay Australian living in London called Laurence Collinson, a TV and radio playwright who had become an exponent of Transational Analysis (TA), and who ran TA therapy groups at his home in West Hampstead.

The great thing about going to TA was that it was not analytical but behavioural and interactional; it focussed not on the self but on the world; it aimed not at catharsis but choice. I enjoyed it and found it intolerably hard: TA demands that we get honest with ourselves and other people, and stop finding excuses and scape-goats for our failure to do so.

Ultimately it was the kindly, reassuring, perceptive Laurence Collinson rather than TA that helped me get through a lot of bewildered misery. But that was not possible without my accpeting no small part of the theory and practice of Transactional Analysis. Games People Play (1962), the seminal work by Eric Berne, is a great deal more sophisticated than its catchy title suggests, and the challenges it presents to entropy and inertia is acute and liberating. "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?" is a choice we would all rather never needed to be made, and like many of its "wise up" distillations of everyday experience, it has remained my guide. But it was easier to turn to Thomas Harris's I'm OK, You're OK of 1967, the self-help publishing success that had popularised Berne. My positive experience of groups that employed the "ego-state" positions of its title lowered my resistance to its low-brow style, and permanently opened my mind to the possibility that its successors, however off-putting their titles, might have some-thing useful to say about being happy - like M. Scott Peck's Road Less Traveled, or Aaron Beck's Love is Never Enough.

Photo of the Cathedral of St John the Divine New York CityIt was in the mid-1980s, when I was in my late 20's, and AIDS was reaching its first peak, that existential anxienty reappeared alongside all the other incoherencies of my life in New York City. Living on the Upper West Side I began to enjoy wandering into the vast incence-soaked tranquility of the Cathedral of St John the Divine, where the consolations of religion seemed to demand none of the theological convictions that had always been impediments to me. With the positive meta-anthropolgical reworkings of myth and belief by Joseph Campbell and Jung behind me, it seemed "all" I needed in order to quieten my psychic turmoil was an equally reputable work of theology that would make it possible to "believe in God".

I thought I had found this in the work of German theologian Paul Tillich, whose 3-volume Systematic Theology and its more popular companion The Courage to Be (1952) employed an existentialist philosophy to affirm individuals' spiritual value against the anti-religious and genocidal totalitarianism of Fascism and Marxist Communism, and described "God" in sophisticated moral-philosophical terms "appropriate for our times". The post-War work of Protestant theologians (often Germans) occupied an important place in the development of social engagement in the United States in the 1950s (it was on Tillich that future civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr had written his doctoral dissertation). But for me there was, at the end of the day, little difference between Tillich and "secular" existentialists, whose ideas I had encountered and largely accepted. Tillich gave those who already believed a way of sustaining and re-affirming that belief -- he did not offer a clever way to fake belief for those, like me, with none.

Nevertheless, I owe to Tillich something which plays an important part in how I think, and which I feel is increasingly separating me from other non-religious gay people: an empathy with those who are believers, and recognition that a life with faith is no easier than one which rejects it, and a sense that the complexity and ambiguity of life and moral action are just as authentically represented in the way religious people think about things as in secular pronouncements. This leads me to the view that there is enormous value to individuals in religious belief; that religious conviction deserves respect; and that religious traditions should not be judged by modern secular standards.

July 12, 2003


Photo of a baby's dummyIn support of Lyle and his blog Destruction for Dummies in his spat with publishers Wiley, "Here Inside" hereby launches Dummies for Dummies with this link to "Best Baby's Dummy", a rare Russian advertising poster by A. M. Rodchenko (1891-1956).

For those who want to know more, Peter of Naked Blog explains everything here, here and here (or you can go to the horse's mouth for dummies here, here, here, here and here).

July 11, 2003

Jez (aka Nixon) - author of that splendid blog Popdizzy - has won his employment tribunal case (and applied some interesting appelations to his soon-to-be-former employers on the way). Check out the most recent episodes of the story (culminating in amazing feats of auto-fellatio) here, here and here.

There are far too many bizarre and obscene juxtapositions from search engines that turn up in my statistics for me to report any of them more than very occasionally. But I was somewhat amused to see that "Here Inside" is number five according to for "iraq whores porno" (but it doesn't figure on Yahoo which, not unreasonably, prefers such pages as and


The Report on the Future of Higher Education by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills reveals that oral examination of Margaret Hodge MP (the Minister for Higher Education) was pretty bad tempered, as this little episode involving Andrew Turner MP (Cons, Isle of Wight) and the Chairman of the Committee, Barry Sheerman MP (Lab, Huddersfield) demonstrates:

Mr Turner: Do you think the response of the institutions to your comment about Mickey Mouse degrees was unfair or defensive?

Chairman: And why did you demonise Mickey Mouse? Why has it never happened to Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny?

Margaret Hodge: Most people understand it.

A little later Mickey reappears:

Mr Turner: What you seem to have done, then, is illustrated as some examples those universities which have a high drop-out rate. Can one conclude that those are Mickey Mouse universities?

Margaret Hodge: That is not what I was saying.

Chairman: The fact is that any of us can come up with prejudiced views of which courses would fit that particular silly name—and it is a silly name, Minister, you must admit. Perhaps this is a subject the Committee should look at in some depth.


It's time to get down seriously to exploring the 50 things that made me what I am (and to repeat the invitation to tell me the things that made you what you are, for inclusion on this blog). Before I went away on holiday I started off with No. 1 - Donna Summer (and cautioned that these things, which I think have had the strongest influence on my personality development, from when I was a child up to the present day, are listed in no special order at all), so now here is

photos of Penguin Classics book covers2. Penguin Books I started buying myself books when I was about 13 and building up a small library, of which, as it grew, I was inordinately proud. From the start I wrote my name and the date inside the front cover of each volume, and beginning a year or so later, added the place of purchase.

It's wrong, though, really, to describe what I collected simply as books. They were paperbacks, and almost every one of them was published by Penguin Books. What made Penguin so attractive to me was, of course, that as paper-backs they were so affordable. But far more important, that said, was that their fiction catalogue consisted almost entirely of works by writers of recognised importance (often the complete works of major authors), classics, and new fiction chosen for its special qualities; the editions seemed quite delicious, with their orange (Penguin) black (Penguin Classics), grey (Penguin Modern Classics - my special favourite) and blue (Pelican non-fiction) spines; front covers framing a detail from classic works of art; even the printed pages were a special experience, set in a variety of type-faces, identified precisely among the other publication date on the inside cover pages. As my collection grew I arranged it on my selves by spine colour and author alphabetical order. OK, so I was fetishising these intellectual eternals as ownable, handle-able objects, but the addictive mixture of aesthetic-sensual desire and intellectual curiosity that Penguins gratified led to my discovery of an enormous quantity of literature, by British and foreigh authors.

My first Penguin Classic is dated 1972 (I was 14) and volumes from this now legendary series -- which has been relaunched this year -- were always the most desireable, but also the most difficult to appreciate - Tolstoy and Dostoievsky, huge, thick, serious books, but they were balanced by Maupassant and Dumas. I was greedy and bought far more than I had time (or, to be honest, genuine inclination) to read, but I picked up a huge amount from the introductions and dipping into chapters: the Classics (especially the Roman historians), Balzac and Zola, Ibsen and Chekhov - though I never, for some reason, acquired Dante. Modern masters were far more abundant: Henry James (whom I simply adored), D H Lawrence, J-P Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (what an autobiography!), Kinglsey Amis and David Storey, Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh. The steady appearance of volumes in the brilliant Strachey edition of the Penguin Freud Library saw me through my adolescent intoxication and permanent adult rejection of psychoanalysis --- I even got my grounding in perverse homosexuality from Jean Genet's Thief's Journal and a pale reflection of it in E M Forster's Maurice and short stories.

30 years ago Penguin seemed unshakeably established; its huge catalgue expanding more every month to meet its enormous popularity. Its history since Alan Lane founded it in 1935 had been the triumph of an idea whose time had arrived, and now under Peter Mayer of Pearson it was a force to be reckoned with. It was a great time to be in love with Penguins. Changes in the 1980s and 1990s - as huge restructuring swept every publishing house - diminished for me the Penguin allure, yet at the start of the 21st century Penguin is back was a vengeance, promoting the titles I adored acquiring. Its website is a feast of intellectual goodies, and an archive of splendidly involving articles on great books -- the latest, Joris-Karl Huysmans's Against Nature, joins Anna Karenina, The Icelandic Sagas, Emma Bovary, Henry James and Oscar Wilde, among others.

July 08, 2003

    Double standards within organisations allegedly based on the teachings of Christ no longer cause me any surprise. I must confess, however, to some confusion at the treatment of Canon John. His sexual orientation and lack of confession are acceptable to priesthood in his role as canon but not as bishop. So are moral, ethical and religious standards dependent upon hierarchy? It became a little clearer when I read today that the volte-face results not from divine intervention but by threatened divergence of funds away from the dioceses.    (Letters to the Times)
The controversy over the gay Bishop of Reading continues, with the so-called liberal members of the Church of England and their wealthier evangelical enemies trading blows. It's a scene that the Church of England and other churches have been serving up for decades now without any signifcant change. What neither side has been prepared to do is make the demand that would break the deadlock: that all gay priests and ministers should come out - that they should end their hypocritical, self-interested, deception and, as gay people in every other walk of life have done, affirm their homosexuality.

Why not? Because the evangelicals recoil from anything that would give a hint to the public (or appear within the Church to acknowledge and countenance) that the Church of England is full to overflowing with gay priests. Gay priests who live with their lovers in vicarages and rectories; gay priests who not only have sex outside marriage but have a lot of it and with a lot of different people; gay priests who live a complete double life; gay priests whose homosexuality and lifestyle are known to their bishops, and whose calling is known to everyone on the local gay scene -- indeed, to almost everyone except their congregations and parish workers (poor dumb fools).

Even less than having to admit the existence of this vast, uncontrolled body of camp clergy do the evangelicals want to have to acknowledge that the Church could not do without them. Only childless genteel playboys like the gay clergy of the Church of England would be able (or prepared) to live on the tiny stipends and be happy in homes they can never own; only these utterly compromised Christians could put up with the nugatory spiritual value and marginal social relevance of their ministries. Without the gay clergy the Church of England would collapse.

But the liberals (and gay clergy themselves) are no more anxious to admit this (except in camp chit-chat to one another) than their fundamentalist foes. For the full extent of the gay clergy's hedonistic and self-serving secretiveness would be revealed; their hypocritical transgressions would be scrutinised; their lazy (and even layabout) lifestyles of irrelevant irresponsibility, petty spite, and drunken sexual shenanigans (running from anonymous fellatio to fisting) would be revealed -- and their kindly, short-sighted parishoners, hitherto completely ignorant of these goings on, would in all probability recoil.

Then the gay clergy might be swept from their comfortable (and often grand) houses, obliged to find honest work, and be cut off from their endless opportunities for camping it up in ecclesiastical robes of every cut and colour at ceremonies decked out with every kind of ritual flummery. Everything they have wanted since they were teenagers, and everything they have achieved since they realised they were devoid of useful talents, would be placed at risk.

If evangelicals and liberals called on the gay clergy of the Church of England to come out, and thereby forced them to do so, the Church might in turn be forced to confront the divergence of belief, meaning and identity which it is currently devoted to covering up and denying.

July 07, 2003

The latest homosexual controversy in the Church of England is one of the funniest yet - the theatre of the absurd, which seemed to have reached a dead-end with Beckett and Pinter, is alive and well in Lambeth Palace. But who can be writing the script? It really takes a genius to come up with something as ridiculous as a priest in a 27-year gay relationship (hitherto unacknowledged and unproblematical) who converts to celibacy (pity the poor partner). Future episodes are going to be brilliant as, given the current state of the Church of England priesthood, they search for someone, anyone to make into a bishop who isn't gay.

What I just can't understand is why all this has suddenly become a problem now. 25 years ago clerical friends of mine used to tell me all about prominent gay bishops. One -- whom they always referred to as Doris Lichfield (or whatever) -- was supposed to give the best (by which it was clear they meant most drunkenly debauched) parties. Another -- always called Betsy Bath and Wells -- was, apparently "camp as a row of pink mitres".

But of course, the problems all stem from the tragically early death of Diana, Princess of Wales, who before she died I predicted would be triumphant as the first female Archbishop of Canterbury, surrounded by gay clerics of every kind.

July 06, 2003

I've been back a week now from Costa Paradiso in Sardinia (sample holiday pics of views from villa and local beauty-spots above and below) and have just regained access to my computer. The latter is one of the side-effects of the fact that the builders, who were supposed to have completed the bulk of the work on our house while we were away, are still very much in evidence. Another is that I have never gone so long without a proper wash!

Sardinia proved to be the holiday we wanted: we simply did nothing except relax, read, sun-bathe, swim, eat, drink and sleep. Although the small towns that could be reached by car from our villa were mostly charming and surrounded by arresting countryside, there was little within reach that was architecurally, culturally, or gatronomically involving -- which was just as well, since I think even if there had been we would have ignored them in favour of the pool and the beach. We heard not another English voice anywhere our whole stay on Sardinia; the landscape was often reminiscent of another planet; and we read not one newspaper, listened to no radio, watched no TV -- and still the world carried on without us.

Perhaps the most delightful part of the holiday (apart from the sheer laziness of it all and that complete abstraction from our everyday lives) was the abundant wildlife: bats that settled above one's head on the patio; wild boars that sauntered around the pool while one was having an evening dip; little salamanders that sat on one's hand and lizards that sunned themselves on the steps every day; small toads that set up a wonderful chorus of high-pitched croaking every night, and bigger ones that had to be rescued when they accidentally jumped into the pool; and a host of the most enormous beetles you have ever seen. The other big gain was that I took with me some cassette tapes that had been left unplayed for years, and with my walkman listened to Götterdämmerung, Parsifal, Mastersingers and Tristan, rekindling my once ardent enthusiasm for Wagner.

I don't feel it will be all that easy to get back into the routine of blogging, not least because there is so much I want to write about and, I fear, so little time in which to do it. But it's good to be back. What has been happening in the blogosphere while I been away?

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