Friday, August 29, 2008


Tomorrow, I'm going to an exhibition in Long Eaton, near Nottingham. I'm really looking forward to it. Crudely, oh so crudely, I've been telling a few people about it. I have an interest in one of the 12 exhibiting artists - we might be looking at the next mediocre thing. [UPDATE: A really good experience. What to say, where to begin. So good, so very good. I feel all warm inside.]

Also, I hurt my leg playing football today. It's just a muscular thing, but it bloody well hurts when I (try to) walk. I'm prevaricating about going to one of those out-of-hours 'walk-in' health centres. Perhaps they should be called 'ill and injured centres'. See, I could do with some crutches - just for a few days, but it's not as if I'm bleeding to death or anything. So maybe I'll just wait. Until later. When the drunks are fouling up everywhere. [UPDATE: Eureka! A couple of hiking poles just happened to be lying around the house!]

I was in Southwold, Suffolk, earlier this week. The southern end was, well, posher than the north. There were people with double-barrel surnames all over the place. And there were loads of famousish people at the Walberswick Village FĂȘte. It was good to be in East Anglia for a short spell. For a moment, it felt like I was exorcising the ghost of something, someone, that didn't quite work. (((Shudder))).

If that Australian party girl - Sarah - gets kicked out of Big Brother later this evening, I'll win some money. [UPDATE: She wasn't, I didn't.]

I'm rather crushed that Nicole Cutler won't be returning to Strictly Come Dancing. She was the one that I was going to marry.

Ho hum, ho hum.

My leg hurts. [UPDATE: The pain is easing, though it gets stiff awfully easily.]

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Every now and again, I'll listen online to old episodes of favourite radio programmes. The quotation below reminded me of some things that I've been reading and thinking recently - about serious writers, who variously over-write and who experience writers' block.

Plots are everywhere - plots, themes, characters, one-liners. Beautiful sentences are waiting for you to pluck them out of the air. They’re all around, they just need to be channelled to you in some way. If you’re gonna cut yourself off from life, you’re never gonna find those plots and those characters, so the writer has to be dedicated to living’.

(Ian Rankin, from the BBC World Service's 'World Book Club', Broadcast: August 2006)

I like the idea that the term 'writer' can be interpreted quite broadly. In making decisions that shape our present and future experiences, do we not all write our own lives.

Good day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lovers (Overheard #4)

On a train, a conversation is overheard:

GeordieYouth#1: D’ y’ ever listen t’ Radio 1?

GeordieYouth#2: Aye, now an’ again, like. Why?

GeordieYouth#1: Right, they’ve got this nurse comes on, gives people advice – stuff t’ do wi’ re-la-tion-ships. Why she was gannin’ on last night about summat that just sounded right weird – reckonin’ that if peoples’ – lasses – are ganna be, y’ knaa - (more discreetly) gannin’ doon an’ that, they should be wearin’ a (confused) gum shield!

GeordieYouth#2: (thinks) Sounds a bit mad, that like.

GeordieYouth#1: Aye, I knaa.

(a quiet contemplative moment passes)

GeordieYouth#2: Are y’ sure it was a gum shield?

GeordieYouth#1: Aye, I think so.

GeordieYouth#2: I’ve heard of a den-tal dam

GeordieYouth#1: Aye! That’s it!

GeordieYouth#2: (sighs) That’s nowt like a gum shield, y’ daft twat.

GeordieYouth#1: So what is it then?

GeordieYouth#2: Ask your lass, man! Y’ makin’ ’s feel queer, here.

GeordieYouth#1: Ah, aye.

Further down the carriage, a woman passenger fails to suppress a snigger.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


This would have been a podcast, but it was just too long for my one-minute limit. So:


Alone, I’d driven up to Lancashire – to join the birthday celebrations and all-round celebration of the life of my old friend John – a most wry, energetic and sporting man in his 50s. Of the 60 or so people at John’s party, I was in a minority of one for not being tied to any of the work-related, LGBT or tennis networks that made up the rest of the gathering. Such a minority of oneness had come as a surprise, and it cast me as some kind of (comfortable) social novelty - I was free to float, chat, entertain and be entertained as people variously caught my eye as interesting, attractive or simply ‘game’ - Shane the social butterfly (rather than impartial observer). Past midnight, with the gathering winding down and wending away, I noticed a couple – a man and a woman of around 50 years of age – looking very relaxed and sober, as others about them flitted and unsteadily faltered away. I approached the couple, querying how they knew John.

The connection proved to be loose and work-related. Teasingly, Jim and Nina made quiet passing reference to ‘our church, in Blackpool’. These two tiny details were enough to make me want to know more. Later, as I learned that birthday boy John did not know Jim or Nina very well, he explained that he’d never had the chance to interrogate them in the way that I had. Amused at this perception of my approach to getting-to-know-you, I explained to John what I’d learned – and so unfolded the reason that I would remember these far from mild people.

In 1998, Jim – ‘in business’ (I didn’t ask which) - had read a newspaper account of the death of a professional footballer, Justin Fashanu – a 37 year old gay man who had committed suicide. There was the suggestion that Justin had been unable to find the support that he needed from either family, friends or his church. In Jim’s words, ‘There was just something about that article – that story – that really moved me; to this day, I’ve kept the cutting of it in my wallet’. For Jim – who’d been brought up in a football-mad family, feeling so moved proved to be a calling to action. Aided by his wife, Nina – a nurse by profession, Jim resolved to return to church and to do all that he could to ensure that there would be no other stories such as Justin’s. This return to church was not going to be so straightforward though, for this was not to be about finding a church that would simply provide a small quiet corner for those unfortunate gay people, this was going to have to begin from ground zero – from learning of what it would mean and require to provide a free and accessible spiritual and worshipful space for gay people and the broader LGBT community. Two slight problems, however: one - neither Jim nor Nina had any experience in running a church, and two – and not so insignificantly – at that time, this couple knew no gay people. There followed a year of visits, friendship-building and learning from the MCC – the Metropolitan Community Church (of Manchester), and from this, the first gigantic steps in ultimately making their home a space for others. Moving from the sedate, northern tip of Blackpool, to a more central – noisier, busier, grittier - location, Jim and Nina would give ministry from their own home. And so, Liberty Church Blackpool was born - and it grew, and the rest is a history that continues to be built – on foundations that I find to be hugely admirable.

As I have mulled over what I heard from Jim and Nina, I have come to feel that the particular impact of their story and their life changes lies in the fact that they were provoked into social action. So, I ask myself, were their depths of feeling and responsiveness things that we might all be capable of? If I wanted to, I could refer to ‘God’s calling’ or some such – but I’ll not do that – at this time, I don’t need to as I try to make sense of their actions – actions that were compassionate, humanistic reactions unfolded through the structuring and language of the church.

As Jim and Nina said goodbye and left the party, I turned to John and asked of a third person – a man in his 30s - who had joined them as they exited. At this, John chuckled, ‘Ah yes, Billy’s from their church. I asked him earlier if he’d had a good evening, to which he practically knocked me off my feet - told me that this was the best party that he’d ever been to - to which I thought ‘Wow!’, then he added that it was also the first that he’d been to sober – I think Nina and Jim have been helping him with that’. This felt like a neat epithet to go with the people – the life-changers - who I would remember, and who I’d spent the latter part of the evening talking to… or interrogating, you might say.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Now then, my Dad! An occasional cause for concern and subject of my writing, my Dad comes from a different era – an era when terms such as ‘Working Men’s Club’ (WMC) did not sound so anachronistic, an era when the term ‘job for life’ did not sound so implausible, an era when three-part lists were not so overused. I have written previously of my Dad’s sibling relationships, such that they were. I would also have mentioned that I know little of his parents (deceased) and the home-life of his childhood. Where there have been brief anecdotes from his early years, they hint at him being surrounded by roguish pals, with the backdrop of a put-upon mother and an alcohol-soaked father. Some years ago, in the heat of an argument, my mother was brave enough - or perhaps foolish enough - to make some comparison between my Dad and his father. Whilst shocking, direct and possibly useful, that juxtapose also struck me as being a little below the belt. Still, it caused no long term harm. The nature of my Dad’s background meant that in adulthood, he seemed to have implicitly forged a new kind of familial foundation amidst a group of people who came together as companionable drinkers in our local WMC – of different generations, these people often struck me as being closer to my Dad than maybe his real family (including wife and children) were. Through my childhood, I regarded this as something of a problem – the kind that I could do nothing about. Hop, step and tripping into my adult years, I began to wonder whether those relations were more complex than I’d originally understood. Where am I going with this - maybe somewhere, maybe nowhere.

Recently, the decline of clubs and pubs has been well-documented, as a nation’s drinking habits and licensing laws shift. There is no longer smoking in public places, and it seems that to run a successful pub or club, then a more diverse (possibly foody) enterprise must unfold. Where supermarket prices of beers and spirits hugely undercut those of ‘the local’, it becomes clear that there will be losers (closures) – and so there have been. And thus, I worry a bit – what would be the response of my father to his second ‘family home’ closing – no more opening hours, no more after hours. For working class men of the north, there will be none of the touchy-feely, none of the dropping round for a coffee and a chat. There will be grunts and gruffness and the eschewing of concern, there will be unarticulated feelings and a sense of ennui. I find myself, over the course of a quarter of a century, having done a complete u-turn in how I feel about ‘the club’. I want it to stay – ugly and unchanging and locked in the past as it has forever been, giving men with responsibilities reasons to stay out longer then they should, providing ‘second homes’ where maybe they are more needed than it is easy to accept.

I remember puzzling at the upset that my Dad showed when an old old man, John, from across the road – a club regular and good friend – died. John and his wife, Agnes, would deliver Christmas and birthday presents for my siblings and I, and they’d be lumped with boxes of imagination-free chocolates too. As pleasant as all that was, I didn’t really get it. Several years after the death of John, I realised that he’d been a bit of a Dad to my Dad, with Agnes adding a quiet grand/motherly touch – club people, family people.


I know that it was a while ago, but to those of you who went here and chipped in, thank you very much – the collected responses make for really interesting reading (I wouldn’t just say that). To those of you who haven’t yet dropped in, the door remains open.

+ + + + +

I went overseas with some people; for some it was a holiday – good thing. Returning home, I knew that I needed a break…

Then I headed off again, with just Alex and his grandpa, no Emma (on an alternative personal mission). Alex – a happy boy – adventured (such is our way); Emma’s father – a good man - did some quiet cementing (such is his way).

I still need a break.

+ + + + +

I have a podcast that I’ve been ‘working on’ (about a rarified kind of conversation), but at over six minutes long it is fearfully too long – so it’ll have to be overhauled, or simply posted as text (later in the week). In the mean time, I’m about to lob a sentimental something. Watch out!