Macho Man. January 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I happened to chance upon a clip of the adventurer Bear Grylls on Gogglebox the other night. Not troubled by self-doubt, is he? Must come from being the Christian church’s poster boy for the Alpha cult. Bear is the kind of man who invents expeditions for himself that place him in just enough danger to make good television but not sufficient to hurt him.

Bear will gleefully drink his own pee in the jungle knowing full well the camera crew has a G&T in a cool box waiting for when the director says ‘Cut’. Television adventurers are rather vexing. Nobody asks them to God-bother the cannibalistic tribes of New Guinea and yet off they go in their darling little Gap khaki shorts airlifted into the last unspoilt pockets of the earth’s crust to ‘discover’ people who are minding their own business with bones through their noses.

Benedict Allen is a case in point. The soft sod did precisely that – going to find cannibals in New Guinea – only to go missing causing an international incident. My first instinct was to think I hope those natives have clubbed him over the head, popped him in the pot with onions, carrots and celery and slowly braised Benedict in time for tea.

Was it our fault that he’d been parachuted in without any form of satellite communication? No. And yet the newspapers were reporting on the missing explorer as if he’d been tasked by Queen Victoria on a mission of national importance rather than gone off on a whim because he was bored.

Surprise, surprise Benedict was fine. He’d twisted his ankle on the tarmac when falling from the sky though what an indigenous tribe who have never seen civilisation are doing with an airstrip is anybody’s guess. Doubtless the nice but dim Benedict will cook-up another pointless quest to bore us with in the near future.

Do you know who I think are the real heroes of the human race? The people who live with mental or physical illness every day of their lives and never give up, the old who have lost their entire generation and been forgotten by their children and grandchildren, the poor who will never get out of the poverty trap and the perennially unhappy with their lot because it is crap rather than because they want more than they are willing to strive for.

In the spirit of The Magic Flute, I have walked through fire, swum through freezing waters and endured the unendurable many times in my life and still had the appetite to keep buggering on. I sometimes ask myself why but that does not stop me being ready to begin again before too long. I put it down to a lust for life, stubbornness, a love for work and physical and mental strength that even those who think they know me best have somehow overlooked.

I won’t dwell on the most recent troubles any more but suffice to say Bear, Benedict and the third spoke in the wheel Ben Fogle are pussies compared to people like us who endure whatever circumstance, fate, bad choices or dishonest people might throw at us.

It is truly devastating when people one tried very hard to love and forgive turn out to be maliciously undermining one’s efforts and prodding insecurities planted decades ago. It has taken me forty-six years to accept that I am on balance happy with my lot. The single gay life in London might not be a ‘good’ life but it is my life and I’m living it with gusto not apology.

When pondering the posturing of the three Bs, a true hero came to mind who I met vicariously through his blood brother and closest friend Harry Fane. Explorer, author, playboy and conservationist Mark Shand was known to the wider world as the Duchess of Cornwall’s little brother. But in the highest of high society and the lowest shanties in India he was a God.

Part Tarzan, part Indiana Jones and with a dash of James Bond, Mark Shand had the sexual magnetism to make women fall like Autumn leaves into his arms. With Harry he could be found hunting for shrunken heads in Indonesia, romancing Bianca Jagger on the dance floor of Studio 54, wintering with Prince Jagat of Jaipur while hunting for gemstones and spending August in Bali building a Robinson Crusoe cabin on Surfer’s Beach. There wasn’t a door  in the jet set world that wasn’t open to Mark and Harry.

Whatever Mark Shand did he did with conviction. He was expelled from a minor public school for smoking marijuana then dismissed from his job as a porter at Sotheby’s for dressing-up in priceless 14th century Japanese armour and duelling with samurai swords. All this after being cautioned for snorting cocaine on his boss’s desk.

Harry and Mark established Obsidian in St James’s in 1978 having conquered New York as the darlings of Diana Vreeland, Jackie O and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. Obsidian began selling antiques but soon developed as a pioneering acquirer of antique Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. Harry continues to run the business after Mark’s death.

The crowning glory of Mark Shand’s life was establishing his charity Elephant Family having resolved to travel India on an elephant leaving a wife and baby daughter in Rome. His patrons were the legendary Ayesha, Rajmata (Queen Mother) of Jaipuir and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. Shand was appalled that 90% of the Asian elephant population had been wiped-out in the last 100 years and resolved to act. He died in New York after an Elephant Family fundraiser falling while going out onto the sidewalk for a cigarette with a girl half his age. Bravo that man.

 

 

 

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Heroes & Villains. January 2018.

Dear Rowley,

I’ve never really been one for reliving the television programmes of my childhood on YouTube even though I know this is an obsession for children of the 1970s and 80s. However, the American cult TV show Batman that ran between 1967 and 1968 for three seasons was an obsession of mine when it was rerun in the 70s. Batman fascinates many of my peers because it quite literally vanished. Legal disputes prevented it being sold directly to the viewer until 2014 when it came out as a DVD boxed set of all 120-episodes.

The minute the box set hit the shops, I bought it and devoured it. Over the past fortnight while spending quiet time at home after the burglary at Bloomsbury Towers, I have savoured each episode slowly and with concentration. Batman appeals to gay men (as it did to a gay child) on a visceral level because it is arguably one of the campest TV shows ever made.

As per the DC comic book inspiration, Batman and his young sidekick Robin are denizens of Gotham City and are the superhero alter egos of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward Dick Grayson. Bruce and Dick have a Daddy/Twink relationship and live together in Wayne mansion with butler Alfred and Aunt Harriet. It is Bruce’s job to constantly teach Dick a trick or two. Nothing camp about that.

Batman and Robin fight crime wearing a ludicrous wardrobe of satin capes, hoods and hot pants, opaque tights and funny little bootees. Batman has a utility belt that would be more at home in an S&M club and they ride around in an open-top black and red sports car called the Bat Mobile. They also have a Bat Bike with a sidecar for Robin.

The set decoration for Batman is as bright as a Pop Art canvas with all the low-tech gadgetry that one could wish for (Bat Shark Repellant Spray anyone?) and the Bat Cave beneath Wayne Manor accessible by two firemen’s poles concealed behind a sliding bookcase.

Despite being the title character, Batman does not lead the bi-weekly scripts. That honour belongs to a roster of villains played by golden age Hollywood legends such as Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Talulah Bankhead (Black Widow), Shelley Winters (Old Ma Baker), Vincent Price (Egghead) and George Sanders (Mr Freeze).

The stories are invariably the same and voiced by producer William Dozier in a Dick Barton Special Agent urgent fashion. Villain hatches a cunning plan. Commissioner Gordon calls Batman. Villains ensnare Batman and/or Robin and concoct the most ludicrous death for them that makes Midsomer Murders look like Happy Valley by comparison.

Batman and Robin escape and foil the villain but only after a staged fight in which each punch, kick and karate chop is accompanied by an on screen graphic reading POW! ZONK! and BAM! A

Adam West’s Batman and Bruce are a joy because he plays both characters deadpan and without a hint of camp despite being dressed in such a loco costume and being expected to perform slapstick comedy such as nearly jiving to death in a groovy nightclub while Robin waits in the car. Burt Ward’s Robin is all teenage testosterone and exclamation marks such as Holy Depravity Batman!!!

it is the Pop Art sets, the psychedelic 1960s colour palette and the wildly OTT performances of the villains that makes Batman such a gay old time. The villain I always wanted to be in the playground was Catwoman as played by Julie Newmar in the first two series. Catwoman and Batman are drawn to each other and Julie Newmar is a beautiful, lithe brunette who can perform the sinuous cat movements in a sequin belted catsuit with mask, heeled boots, clawed gloves and that gorgeous mane of chestnut hair with tiny little cat ears perched like a tiara on top.

Cesar Romero as Joker is to me more sinister than the late Heath Ledger. His manic laughter, chalk white face and green hair are truly unnerving as are his Jack-in-the-Box movements. The laugh is only matched by Riddler Frank Gorshin’s helium balloon hysteria. Gorshin is as lithe and viscose as Penguin is a fat, chain-smoking toff in top hat with cigarette holder, umbrella and monocle.

The roll call of old Hollywood is so impressive: Eli Wallach also played Mr Freeze, Anne Bater Olga Queen of the Cossacks, Milton Berle Louis the Lilac, Joan Collins the Siren, Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagne, and Carolyn Jones (the original TV Morticia Addams in The Addams Family) Marsha Queen of Diamonds.

The first of the week’s two episodes ended with a cliffhanger to make you come back tomorrow ‘Same Bat Time Same Bat Place’. But the formula began to flag come the end of series two. A film was made in 1966 bringing Catwoman, Riddler, Joker and Penguin together to defeat Batman and it is a campfest as you’d imagine. Series Three moved from Pop Art to a trippy Surrealism addressing contemporary culture such as flower children, mini skirts and hep cat slang.

Series Three was ruined for me by the introduction of Batgirl aka perky librarian Barbara Gordon. It was an attempt to inject the tired formula with some feminine feistiness but only proved to undermine the Dynamic Duo when she saved the day once too often. Batgirl always disappeared after saving said day leaving Batman scratching his chin and wondering who this mystery woman could be? Pretty safe bet when Barbara Gordon always popped-up not two minutes later.

Batman was the biggest TV phenomenon in the mid-1960s and has achieved cult status ever since thanks to repeats and now the box set. To say I still see it with childlike wonder is Batman’s compliment. Holy Regression Therapy!

 

 

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Wendy Deng & Other Animals. January 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Have you ever thought that a cabal of very selfish, very wicked and very greedy people carve up the world’s wealth and power between them? Well, if evidence were needed look no further than the former Mrs Rupert Murdock Wendy Deng. The slant-eyed devil socialite allegedly had an affair with the egregious Tony Blair, is bezzie mates with Ivanka Trump and is now apparently shagging Vladimir Putin.

What a piece of work is Wendy! You will find her at the Met Gala after party clowning around with Ivanka, on the slopes at Klosters with her latest toy boy or on board Abramovich’s yacht doubtless with a Blair or a Putin as a secret shipmate. I presume Wendy lives in Hong Kong but has an apartment in that sunniest place for shady ladies, Monte Carlo.

Out of all of Wendy’s cabal, I think the pleasantest character is that old turtle Rupert Murdock who is presumably having a ball with his new Sheila Jerry Hall. Blair’s stuck with avaricious satchel-mouth Cherie, Putin’s probably a closet homosexual, Trump is loop-the-fucking-loop and poor Melania possibly born a dude.

So who is going to ride to our rescue? Oprah Winfrey and RuPaul. Now you know I have great respect for Oprah and Mama Ru but I do not think they are cut-out to run the US of A. They can definitely win an election with charisma that makes Hilary Clinton look like a wallflower in comparison. But America will be sorry if Oprah does become Madam President.

As you know, I have written very little about President Trump because I am still reeling over the fact that a man who looks like something out of Strictly Ballroom – with that ludicrous nylon blond wig and jowls like Churchill the bulldog plus the piggy eyes of Thomas Cromwell – could actually get voted into the highest office on the planet. The fact that he communicates with other world leaders via Twitter says it all.

I fear the Donald will trigger a nuclear war before he is impeached, arrested or shot dead. It would be good to know who is the Vice President and whether Ivanka would stage a coup. Still, it will be fun to have Ivana Trump as the First Mother. She’d make a terrific hostess with the mostest in the White House.

I wonder what HM The Queen thinks of all of this monkey business? She must have had as many Presidents of the USA as she has British Prime Ministers and couturiers. HM has met all the key players in the Wendy Deng set including Rupert, Jerry, Putin, Abramovich and the Blairs. I believe she has yet to meet Donald Trump and the rest of his nest of vipers. Perhaps she’ll be spared the pleasure by Prime Minister May who might ask Prince Charles to deputise.

Weren’t you enchanted by the BBC programme about the Coronation and Crown Jewels featuring The Queen? HM was as effervescent as a Sterident as she made mischief and matter-of-fact comments that soon shut the rather pompous expert up. She snatched the Imperial State Crown from the gloved hands of the Crown Jeweller, had no idea what Prince Charles was doing at the Palace while she was being crowned at the Abbey and said words to the effect of ‘thank goodness’ when it was estimated that she hadn’t seen St Edward’s Crown since 1953.

One really hopes The Queen has recorded her lifetime of diaries to camera. Wouldn’t that be the most remarkable record of ten decades of British and international history narrated by the woman who knew them all and saw it all. I also enjoyed seeing The Queen wear the Culling III & IV brooch for the first time since her Diamond Jubilee celebration at St Paul’s.

The Queen clearly does not suffer fools gladly and I for one would love to hear what she thinks of strutting peacock Putin, bombastic buffoon Trump, the egregious war criminal Mr Blair and Miss Love You Long Time Deng. I would imagine she is too old to care now and thoughts turn to firesides at Balmoral, walks in Windsor Great Park and Christmases at Sandringham.

Can you honestly blame her? Apparently Prince Philip has retired to a sizeable house on one of the privately-owned royal estates and The Queen joins him for weekends. What a delightful arrangement. The Queen clearly likes Queening so won’t stop even though she may be more selective of her engagements. She’s certainly too aged to tolerate the Royal Variety Performance, the Royal Film Command Performance or anything involving Katherine Jenkins warbling or Clare Balding toadying.

We’ve been made aware over the years that Royal Ascot and the Derby are favourite dates on The Queen’s calendar and that she would not miss a Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph and the Remembrance Service at the Royal Albert Hall. The Braemar Games are always good for a laugh as some dumb jock drops a caber on his foot or the marching band’s kilts blow up to their ears. I don’t know whether The Queen attends house parties now but I doubt it. Rather a busman’s holiday to go to stately homes to be entertained…

We also know that The Queen has a best friend in dresser Angela Kelly and sees no reason to give up the glad rags and jewels worn to State Banquets. She’s not bothered about overseas travel any more though does like a cruise round the Hebrides. It would be a nice gesture to recommission Britannia for the last years of HM’s life. It is the least we could do to say thank you Ma’am.

 

 

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Wandering Hands. January 2018.

Dear Rowley,

As Dame Maggie Smith replied to a gauche journalist who greeted her with ‘you look great’, ‘Well dear I’ve looked greater’. Having had blonde highlights to cheer myself up in the dread dark nights of January, I have been frequenting the Admiral Drunkard drag bar on Old Compton Street and am pleased to report that drag is alive and well.

I find by far the most talented London drag queen – who is a comedienne, singer and raconteur – is Bag ‘O Chips. No, kidding. I think the real heir to Regina Fong and Dusty O is Miss Cookie Mon-Star. Cookie was the first male forces sweetheart and has entertained British troops all over the world. We have never met but have been introduced by a mutual friend so will hopefully meet soon.

Rather disturbing to see that Bruce Weber and Mario Testino have joined Terry Richardson on the Vogue blacklist having been accused of sexual harassment by various male models over the years.  Now, here’s the thing. Weber, Testino and Richardson have always had a yen for the homoerotic if not pornographic in their work and the fashion industry loved it.

Weber is the maestro of all-American beefcake black and white photographs of ripped nude boys. His work is characterised by California sun, water, beach balls and labrador puppies. It all looks wholesome because the boys appear so happy and healthy. None of them looks particularly uncomfortable frolicking in mountain cricks with their dicks out for a photographer who most resembles Father Christmas.

Testino is a bit more subversive stroke perverse. I recall a series of images he took of male models called the Magic Finger. The finger was Testino’s who pulled swimming shorts on Copacabana beach  off at the elastic waist to photograph the tackle beneath.

Testino is famed as the British Royal family’s favourite photographer. I personally find it creepy that he could take those beautiful portraits of Diana, Princess of Wales towards the end of her life then shoot Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall a short time later. It was an open secret that any male model who wanted the honour of being shot by Testino had to attend a nude shoot at the Chateau Marmot as a sweetener.

The models accusing Testino said he would dismiss his battalions of assistants and molest the naked guys making crude suggestions. Now, using the same logic as Weinstein, if it was an open secret that Testino’s nude shoots at the Chateau had a happy finish what but blind ambition would make a male model attend the shoot or his booker allow it?

The hypocrisy in the fashion industry is breathtaking’ almost as bad as the ordure surrounding Hollywood and the #MeToo campaign. Anna Wintour has released a disingenuous statement about her ‘friends’ Weber and Testino. Despite neither of them having been prosecuted, the editorial director of Condé Nast has blackballed two of the most prolific Vogue photographers of the last thirty-years.

There is something to be said for the theory about hiding in plain sight. Everyone in fashion lapped-up Weber’s dreamy male nudes thinking them saucy rather than queazy. Testino’s nudes are closer in aesthetic to the vile Terry Richardson who not only photographed naked but posed in pornographic images with his famous sitters. But did any of the fashion editors so much as register surprise let alone censure? No.

I rather lost respect for Testino’s work after the hubris of the National Portrait Gallery show in which he blew-up images of Madonna, Diana and all those other ‘no surname necessary’ superstars intended for CD covers and magazine pages to mammoth scale.

Testino lost further kudos in The September Issue all about US Vogue. In his briefing with Wintour in a stateroom at The Ritz London (why?), he spouted some bullshit that strongly suggested he’d been far too busy chasing Sven from Sweden round a suite at the Chateau to bother storyboarding a Sienna Miller cover story in Rome.

Once in Rome, Testino couldn’t get Miller’s hair right so wasted a day having a wig cut in. Despite armies of assistants, he couldn’t make the Coliseum ‘work’ as a backdrop. At the eleventh hour, he returned about six images to Wintour back in New York who had to completely airbrush the best of the bad job for the cover.

Testino came across as petulant, preening and the kind of fop who drapes a tailored jacket over his shoulders like a mink stole. That he had become powerful enough in the fashion industry to have his pick of the buff boys is not Anna Wintour’s compliment really, is it?

Having been on the fringes of fashion magazines since my late teens, I have always believed that their power and self-importance is disproportionate to reality. Now that social media has by and large cut the glossies down to size they still behave as if their affairs are of international importance not realising the parade has passed by long ago.

Anna Wintour has been smart on the same level as Suzy Menkes to use Vogue’s resources to engage social media. The September Issue made Wintour a star with a whole new generation as did The Devil Wears Prada. Her leverage with the annual Met Gala is inestimably useful for a woman who needs to leverage celebrity to stay relevant and alive.

In other news, while not on dry January I am on a major clean food kick at the moment and thoroughly enjoying minimal cooking such as cherry tomatoes and basil fried in balsamic or a hunk of goat’s cheese with sourdough bread. I have lost weight, feel better and now can’t even look at a ready meal without feeling nauseous. And on that note, until next time…

 

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Jeeves & Gail. January 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Do you know who always helped me keep body and soul together over the past decade? That’s right! Gail from Capri (the dry cleaner not the island). Gail is a buxom Irish lass with eyes that sparkle like crystal and a mane of raven hair framing a face like Marilyn Monroe. She’s one of the few people in my life who has true glamour. What’s not to like?

When Capri sank, Gail moved to a tatty place in Bloomsbury where she was not happy and neither was I. I had a few sightings over the years but it was only last week that I promised to pay a visit to the Prince of Wales’s dry cleaner by appointment, Jeeves, where Gail rules the roost in the St Paul’s branch.

Jeeves is a lovely shop with a very talented lady tailor on site and Gail standing behind the counter in soaring stilettos with hand on hip and a beaming smile on her lovely face. I’d bought a pair of bum-hugging bespoke trousers cut by Edward Sexton that were lovely on the outside but frayed and unlined inside. Some chafing might occur.

Anyway, the seamstress half lined and repaired the trousers and they are better than they were on the day I took delivery of the suit. Gail also washed, folded and packed my shirts to perfection … so handy when you’re travelling and easy to store at home. Needless to say, I will be with Jeeves for life as I think Gail will be in mine.

It is always a lesson in London to follow HRH the Prince of Wales’s feathers around town because whether it is Lobb shoes or Floris perfume, Prince Charles has exquisite if expensive taste. Actually Jeeves is not that many shekels more than the crappy dry cleaners on Theobald’s Road but the difference is like that between a tramp and a supermodel.

Good service is so important to me especially if the person serving is a personal friend. I knew I would meet Gail again somewhere along the road and I am delighted that she is Queen Bee at Jeeves. It takes an older lady to rule with firmness and charm. Like me, Gail won’t take any crap from the punters. Maybe she should get involved in Jewellery for Gentlemen. 

Speaking of the business, I bought two darling stickpins at Ullman’s off Hatton Garden today. One is a square cut ruby set in a diamond of yellow gold with three seed pearl accents. Needs a good clean, mind, before it is presentable for the website. The other is my initial, J, spelled out in old mine cut diamonds. That’s a keeper. I’ve already worn it stoating from Hatton Garden to Jeeves.

My throat is improving by the second but I keep getting put back by the troubles with the Chinese thieves downstairs. They reported ME to the police because I wrote them a threatening letter. Apparently I can be arrested for harassment. And they say justice is blind…

So I set a trap today. I left a diamanté brooch by my laptop with the camera switched on and another insurance camera secreted on top of Debrett’s. Sadly they did not bite because they tend to work at night whether I am in bed or not. So the next step will be a disguise in order to catch them in the act. I have it all ready for nightfall. Drama Queen? Moi? How very dare you!

I will get my Grandmother’s ring back come what may. As insurance I went to see the makers, Smith & Harris, on Hatton Garden who can remake it once I have raised the funds. It will be on my finger within the year. Who will I leave it to in the event that I don’t have time to swallow it before I croak? La Farmer has more diamonds than Mae West and Mr Bowering doesn’t care for such gee gaws.

I know Mrs T would cherish it as would the Ruby. It wants to go to a lady when it leaves my finger and, believe me, I’m no lady. I’m no gentleman either though I can put on a good show before too much gin blows my disguise. I have just dispatched two Jewellery for Gentlemen envelopes to Queensland for darling Louis Circé. I also enclosed a diamanté choker from the London Cut exhibition and some naughty tight white knickers. You dirty old man!

My hair is now so long I can put it in a top knot like Bet Lynch. I choose not to however. Segue, I am so loving Hart non-stop 80s on the wireless. It is my era in music when artists had to hold a tune and do all their own singing as Miss M would say. It is so much more sublime than Hip Hop doof doof crapola that I try to avoid at all costs. I am a throwback I know. To Versailles as it happens where Tessa and I were courtesans.

I fully intend to have a cosy evening watching Burlesque in bed and uploading all the telly CDs I found under the stairs. It will be a real memory lane evening: my favourite kind. Until next time…

 

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