You know your son’s a little light in his sneakers when…
The Scoobies travelled en masse to Bristol this weekend for Sam’s Mum’s birthday party. She’s a perennial figure to us all and, as expected, she put on a great bash. The next day we were standing on the porch of the converted Mill where they live and I noticed the creek that must have powered it once. I pointed it out to Sam. “I used to play in there all the time when I was a kid,” he said, taking a swig from his coffee, “I had great fun. I’d put on one of Mum’s dresses and pretend I was in The Poseidon Adventure
If you're concerned that I might be having a bit too much fun in my last few weeks now that I'm technically a man of leisure, fear not. One - I'm broke. Thanks to birthdays, replacement passports and - granted - a lot of superfluous booze, I'm what they call in the trade "financially constrained". Never mind! - it would be unsettling to suddenly find myself with free time and
free cash! I might go wild and buy some shoes without holes or something!
I'm also helping my sister find a job and a flat. And when I say "helping" I mean instigating a gruelling schedule of CV rewrites, cold calls to recruitment agencies and hours spent in dank internet cafes. But she'll thank me one day. Oh, she will. You all will! *looks wild-eyed around dank internet cafe & shakes fist*
My brother Alex has arrived Saturday morning and we are now having lunch. We’ve caught up on all the niceties and when the food arrives I fuss with the plate of nachos, pulling at the corn chips and teasing the melted cheese.
“I know this is always a little weird, us meeting.”
Alex looks up.
“It’s not really weird,” he says, holding up a chip. He’s lost in thought for a second. “Okay, maybe a little. One day I get told I have a long lost older brother. I guess that’s a little weird.”
I nod and let this gravity of the moment settle.
“We’re always on best behaviour because everything’s so new. Really we should be as rude as possible. Swear more often. That’s what other brothers do.”
“That will probably come in time,” he notes stoically, picking up half of a duck wrap and taking a bite. I’ve noticed Alex doesn’t like making eye contact. There’s an obligatory flicker when he’s answering a question, but it’s only when I’m focused on something else that I feel him really look at me.
“So in the spirit of discovering the real me,” I continue, “there’s something I want you to know.”
I feel my mouth move and hear my voice, the words slightly muffled in my head. Both words are over so quickly and I think how every time I say them I’m surprised that there’s no crack of thunder, no unprecedented wind to snuff out candles, or at the very least the shrill cry of a thousand barren virgins.
There is, however, a slight pause as Alex processes this information.
“I guess that would explain why you never talk about a girlfriend.”
Bingo, I think. Get the boy a prize.
“And are you… okay with that?”
“Sure. I don’t really know any gay people but I’m not homophobic, so you don’t need to worry. It doesn’t really matter anyway.”
“Well… good. It matters to me that you know though.”
“But it doesn’t change anything.”
As we walk to the register to pay, I ask him if he’d like to nip to G.A.Y. bar for a couple of frozen daiquiris and maybe a cabaret show but I’m met with a disapproving look.
“Don’t push it,” he warns. And then playfully he shunts me with his shoulder, making me step ungracefully into the wall so that even the waiter standing aside holding a stack of dirty plates has to suppress a smile.
It’s my final day at work. I have been here for over a year and I’m ready to go. My posts will a bit more random over the coming weeks, but I’ll try and update at least every two days. On the 5th of October I’ll be heading to California and then, five days after that, I’ll be flying to New Zealand. I’m a bit unsettled but very, very excited.
We’re heading into flashback territory. Not too far. Just a week, but still, hold onto your dentures, Grandma!
Kate meets me at London Bridge. Predictably there are delays on the Piccadilly Line so we’ve allowed two hours to get to Heathrow. On the way Kate gives me my presents; underwear, socks, a t-shirt. I’ve asked everyone to get my underwear and socks this year. My current stockpile is more hole than fabric. At the airport I start to feel nervous. I’m wearing sunglasses because of the sty (I don’t want to scare children) so I keep bumping into people. We walk behind two middle aged Indian men in dark grey suits who look like they could be travelling together on business except that they’re holding each others hand tenderly.
I worry that I won’t recognise Amber. Partly because I’m still wearing the sunglasses (I don’t want to scare my sister) and partly because she could have changed her hair or be wearing glasses herself or maybe I won’t be sure if it’s her because two years has passed. Kate checks the board again for me but the plane has definitely landed. My eyes hurt from peering at faces. No, no, no, no. Suddenly there’s an unmistakable smile.
“I need a cigarette,” she says, after we hug and I’ve shown her the sty.
“I thought you’d given up?”
“I lied,” Amber says, very breezy for someone who’s been on a twelve hour fight and should be crippled by jet lag.
On the tube back it’s her turn to give me presents (!); a heavy dark blue writing pen and a box of chocolate liquors. We eat the liquors. I’m expecting some type of gelatinous filling but its pure alcohol which makes me gag.
We shower and change at my flat and meet Lizzie near the restaurant. “Happy birthday!” she yells, from the end of the street. I run up to her and give her a kiss. I want to grab her waist and swing her round. I always feel like doing that when I meet women I love, and tonight I’m with a lot of them.
Amber will get lost if I don’t show her to the tube station. She could get mugged if I don’t teach her to hide her purse. She might not come back if I don’t explain to her about rush hour. I take the morning off work and give her the crash course.
In the early evening I travel to a bar I’ve booked for my drinks - the NFT (National Film and Theatre) under Waterloo Bridge. I sit at the table as the waiters sticky tape sheets of A4 that explain about the booking. There are angry mumblings. “It doesn’t seem fair!” exclaims a grey haired luvvie in a pashmina. I’m almost drunk before my first guests arrive. Thank God Amber makes it in one piece. The Scoobies arrive, so does Felicity and my flatmate Susan. Olly buys me a drink, and then Joe does and then I think Sam places one in front of me - it’s a conspiracy to get me drunk. I catch myself becoming lairy. Lizzie and co wants to go on somewhere else. Tonight could go either way, I think to myself as we step into the night.
I wake up next to Am. I have a fuzzy memory of break dancing and wearing the eye-patch. It could, however, have been a lot worse.
We take no hurry with the day and it’s nearly three by the time we decide to meet Trinity in Clapham Common. The three of us chat and slip in and out of the newspapers. At one point, while she’s talking, I’m struck by the way Amber has changed, of the sad moments where life has ripped suddenly on rough edges. Before I can dwell on this too much, she flashes that smile again and makes fun of my sty.
I get home from work and my rooms a mess. Her stuff is piled on the floor and the ironing board is still out from the morning. The windows haven’t been opened so it’s a bit stuffy. There’s a glass of water, half full, on the chest of drawers. I flop onto the bed.
“Do you want me to turn the TV down?” Amber asks.
“No, I’m fine,” I say, snuggling deeper into the pillow.
“She’s hung up her vintage Velma Bar pink suede heels” is along the lines of what they’ll say in the papers tomorrow once the newshounds realize that Belle de Jour
has decided to finish her blog today. They’ll recap the past year in sound bites, possibly explaining what a “weblog” is for the umpteenth time, before diving hurriedly into the sex and scandal that has made Belle infamous.
My relationship with Belle began in earnest after I was sent her link and spent the afternoon pouring over her prose. Then I raved a little with mine
. I even went to the heady heights of writing her an email. I think I gushed. There was almost certainly gushing. The next day she linked to me and simultaneously won the Guardian blog of the year award. Before you could say “Controversial call-girl diarist” three times fast, I was inundated with traffic, mostly male teenagers who quickly became disappointed that Drew was not
a hot blonde chick who liked to talk casually about masturbation (that said - Boys? If you ever decide to lick the other side of the stamp - so to speak - just drop us an email, y’hear?)
Soon the hunt for Belle’s true identity began. Perhaps I was seriously blinkered but my gut feeling has always been that she’s for real. I like her anonymity too. If an upside down photo of her was slid across the table, I’d have to think long and hard about whether I wanted to discover she has one ear slightly higher than the other, or that she has long lashes, or that she doesn’t particularly look Jewish.
Then, during the peak of media interest, I received an email from a tabloid reporter -
Hi there, I work for the mail on sunday review and basically we want to
find out who Belle de Jour is - if you've met her/spoken to her/ know
anything about her give me a call on (number provided).
Obviously we will pay for any info.
I liked your site,
The Daily Mail and its Sunday counterpart are well known in the UK for what I can only describe as “blatant homophobia” so you could say that I was less than inspired to dish the dirt. Instead I forwarded the email onto Belle. I felt clumsy writing it though. “Um hi Belle, just got sent this email and thought you'd be interested in it.” Idiot.
Thank you Drew. There's not, as it has been observed, enough of you in the world ;)
The Lady sure knows how to make a guy feel special.
I’m sad that Belle’s heading for pastures greener (book, television, movie, it’s a tough life) but her blog was at risk of burning out altogether. One of the first adages you learn when you come to blogging is that people are strangely unmoved by your successes. We relate much better to failure.
It would be polite right about now to let the Lady get a proper word in edgeways, especially as I’ve crowbarred in every tenuous link with her I can think of (the story about when Belle and I got drunk on sake and made out in a phone box will have to wait for another time).
This is an extract
from the early days of Belle de Jour
– one of the first posts I read, and my favourite:
I felt inexplicably happy and walked home instead of taking a cab. Neither high heels nor drunken idiots frighten me much - when you spend a life in stilettos, pavements are no hardship, and I've shrugged off enough come-ons that I could write the book on losing losers. I sang aloud, a song about lovers who want each other dead. Several empty night buses rumbled down the road. A man on a bicycle passed me and said, 'Great legs!' He slowed down and glanced over his shoulder to gauge my reaction. I smiled and thanked him. He rode on.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Blue and Violet: La Belle de Jour. c. 1885. Oil on canvas.
It was cold and clear. I looked up, and was surprised at the number of stars.
Honestly, I’m not fobbing you off with baby pics again
just because it’s my last few days at work and they’re riding me like the proverbial donkey. What kind of person do you take me for? Really.
Now look! Harri loves the water! Who’s a splashy boy then? Who is? Who’s a splashy boy? Harri is!
Sure, a picture of my nephew doesn't make up for the fact that today got away from me a little and I ran out of time to tell you all about my eye-patch antics but, heavens above, that's a cute kid. He better not think I'm going to fall for that whole "big eyes, cheeky smile, button nose" shtick when I come over. I'll soon teach him how to spit tobacco and drink whiskey neat like a real man, you see if I don't.
What happens when one still has a huge sty and in the evening one is the key guest at a belated birthday drink with friends and one's sister, and possibly Luke? One buys an eye-patch, of course! I wonder if anyone will want to walk the plank tonight? Or - ha ha - shiver me timbers?
No, probably not.
This much I know
Each person in the world is someone’s ultimate fantasy. Realizing that we fall in love because
of our foibles would make the world a happier place. Or at least everyone would get laid a lot more.
I’m never going to be a morning person. The only concept I can fully appreciate before 11am is “snooze”.
Calling someone “arrogant” is lazy shorthand for “I’m threatened by you”. And the people who are genuinely arrogant are nearly always insecure as fuck.
It’s only as my three sisters’ get older that I have any idea of who my Mother was.
I expect a lot from my friends. They must be funny and serious, caring and independent, ambitious and content. They don’t get days off and the pays terrible. Sometimes I wonder why they put themselves through all the hassle.
The closer you come to mastering your reality, the greater responsibility you have to guide others towards understanding theirs. I can pinpoint the moments when I’ve been helped.
I’ll always be envious of those men whose only body hair is a trail starting from the belly button and running down to their groin. Envious and a little turned on.
I hold out that one day I’ll learn ballet, to fence, play the piano and speak French fluently.
I don’t take kindly to hypocrisy. If I wasn’t so industrious I would probably be very anti-establishment.
On my tenth birthday we discovered a wheelchair in the river and created a human chain of plucky ten year-olds to rescue it. The hospital came and collected it the same day. We never found out how it got there but that didn’t stop us from feeling like heroes.
I’m always going to be a little bit of an outsider. I’m pretty sure it is a self fulfilling prophecy to make certain that I always feel special.
A shared history can be more powerful than a blood tie.
I’m very scared of death even though I try not to be. I have a grudging awareness that I may spend my whole life accepting this fear.
New Zealanders are some of the most open minded people in the world. We’re kind of like the Dutch, except we have mountains and much more pot.
Always keep someone around who will point out the poppy seeds between your teeth, but will lie in cold blood when you have a bad hair day.
The 90’s seemed a bit of a disappointment at the time. Grunge was a poor cousin to punk and disco and rock ‘n roll. Funny how the decade seems utopian now.
One of my biggest regrets is losing my cat, Marmalade. We moved house and she was unsettled and ran away. I still get a pang in my heart whenever I think of her.
To this day I can’t understand how a handful of school subjects are supposed to help you decide what you want to be for the rest of your life.
Gay bars scare me every time. It’s like I’m fifteen again and I’m hoping my three days growth of stubble will get me past the bouncer.
I feel sorry for people who live in North London if only because they don’t get to cross the Thames in the wee hours of the morning.
Kids aren’t always cruel. There was a boy in my class called Michael Burlace who had crutches and at lunchtimes we used to play Dark Crystal
so that he could be a landstrider. Man, we all wished we could be landstriders.
Due to technical difficulties, this post didn't go up yesterday...
I’ve had a haircut to spruce myself up before my sis shows up tomorrow. My cranium has not seen the like since the summer of ‘92. Two words: Bowl. Cut.
I also have a sty. It took me a good fifteen minutes to explain to the recently married (and the only) woman in my office, why I needed her wedding band to dab at my eye. Honestly, you’d think by her reaction that I’d asked for the head of her first born child. I did check, but apparently a gold ring works better.
And finally, time to say “goodbye early twenties – hullo mid-to-late twenties”. From midnight tonight I will no longer be a yoof. Expect more posts about mortgages, receding hairlines and the pros & cons of buying a Harley.
P.S. If you’ve sent me an email in the past few days, I’m a bit snowed under at the mo (Am even writing this on the hoof, on the hoof I tells ya) but I will reply soon. Brownie promise.
P.P.S. Woke up this morning with my eye the size of a football. Forget the motorbike - I may need some reconstructive surgery instead. Happy Birthday to me!
He’s fine - terribly swollen, his jaw is wired shut and he leaks blood if he’s not careful – much to Christopher’s amusement and my consternation. After he got home on Saturday night, he couldn’t fall asleep so he took a sleeping pill which was probably the reason he fainted.
When I arrive at the hospital he’s sitting up in bed drinking Lucozade from a plastic cup with a straw, and mumbling animatedly.
His Mum, Rosy, looks tired. “Can we get something for him to eat?” she asks, when the nurse comes over to take his pulse.
“I’ll have to check, but I’m sure it will be OK. Dinner’s finished for the night.”
I know the area so I suggest that Rosy and I walk to the supermarket.
“What flavour soup do you want?” I ask, as we turn to leave.
“Mmugarnam,” Christopher replies, the cord from his IV drip swinging.
The walk is longer than I remember. “We could have taken the car,” Rosy chides, as we hike up the hill. My legs ache from the slope and the lunges that my trainer explained would work the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Especially the glutes, I note.
The supermarket is welcoming - lit up bright. We search for the yoghurt drinks and the milkshakes and the packet soups and a small package of wipes for the blood, deciding on things together and quickly. We choose soups without lumps or croutons, and a selection of flavoured milks. The checkout is the sort where you work the machine yourself. Rosy hasn’t seen them before so I show her how to scan the objects and place them on the shelf so the machine doesn’t scream at you and send an assistant running to the flashing red light, clutching a set of keys that will quiet the horrible noise.
It’s nearly dark when we get outside again.
“We got rather a lot, really,” Rosy says, holding up one of the carrier bags and noticing for the first time what we’ve bought, which, away from the warm glow of the supermarket, now seems a little excessive.
Thirty minutes ago I received a text message from Christopher. After I’d dropped him home in the taxi on Saturday night – we’d both been to a 30th birthday party and then to a bar - he passed out in his bathroom and broke his jaw in three places, probably hitting it on the sink. His flatmate found him in the hallway unconscious. I just talked to his mother and I’m going to visit him after work.
I’ve finally got my passport form away. Kate met me for lunch and to scribble on the back of my new photos that she knows me and I can be trusted even if one time I was a few days late paying her back that £10.
And isn’t this absolutely incredible? No, I don’t mean the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world – I mean the sunshine! In the UK! On two consecutive days! If it keeps on like this it’ll start to feel like summer!
The stink plant, she is unfurling!
A Guide to Having Gay Sex, for Straight People.
Don’t be surprised if your gay friend turns you down. Just because they’re gay doesn’t mean they will want to sex you.
Do watch some gay porn but don’t expect it to be the real deal. No, they're not all that big. No, not everyone has a sling. And no, you won't be able to meet anyone like him/her. They don't exist. Except in Gay Porn World™.
Don’t go cruising. You’ll only end up standing in bushes with someone who has even less idea of gay sex than you do. Or you might get mugged.
Do go to your local gay bar. But don’t get tanked and stand in the corner swaying until someone takes pity on you. Remember what your Mother always told you: smile, engage in conversation, and never follow someone into a cubicle without at least knowing their Christian name.
Don’t talk about your boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s just not polite.
Don’t be worried you won’t be any good. If you’re not enjoying yourself - what’s the point? Saying that, don't whoop and clap your hands during the gay sex either.
Do expect to give oral sex. No one likes a Selfish Sam and in Gay World, oral sex is like a handshake.
Don’t be scared of sodomy - it’s not a prerequisite. But if you’re thinking “why go all the way to the Fair Ground without riding the Ferris Wheel?” make sure everyone involved gets strapped in safely. And that the Ferris Wheel goes real
slow to begin with. And again, no clapping and whooping unless they've told you they’re into that.
Don’t expect lesbian sex to be all soft focus and nipple tweaking. Gay women have been doing it for a long time - they'll show you stuff that'll make your eyes pop out. Not literally, of course. Whatever anyone tells you - eye-ball popping is not a usual lesbian sex practice.
Do be gracious the morning after. Don’t yell, or cry or get angry - it’s just bad manners. Having morning sex before you leave is much more productive. It will leave a nice taste in your mouth, as well.
Does it count as A.D.D. if I keep checking every five minutes to see if this stink plant
has flowered yet? No really - does it?