Cheers. December 2017.

Dear Rowley,

Never liked New Year’s Eve very much, have you? All that forced jollity is rather a busman’s holiday when you’re a party boy in London who is old enough to know better but perseveres nevertheless. I take the Judy Garland defence when questioned about h0w many I lift of an evening. How many concerts have I given? How many movies have I made? Do you think that would be possible without major, major discipline? And with major discipline comes a need to kick-off your slingback and pour a gin. Sue me.

I am flabbergasted when people pass judgement on my fondness for fizzy pop. A day without Prosecco is quite frankly a day wasted. It’s medicinal. Creative people and manic depressives (one and the same) do tend to have the taste for hooch because it does exactly what it promises to: instant relaxation, instant mood swing in the right direction and instant laughter.

I was talking to a girlfriend the other day and commented that most of us in London have a relatively high level of anxiety.We all have our ways of coping with it as best we can. To quote Billy Holiday, ‘if I go to church on Sunday, then cabaret all day Monday aint nobody’s business if I do’. As long as you’re not hurting anybody else or yourself then what’s the problem?

Interesting to read in the newspapers that loneliness is as bad for the human psyche as fifteen cigarettes are to the lungs. I believe that. Besides, when you live in London you’re breathing so much polluted air you might as well smoke two packets of Capston Full Strength. I think the sooner links can be made between physical and mental health the better for all of us. The mind is part of the body so why not?

My doctor, dear Dr B, has often told me to write my manic depressive memoirs. I thought of the title - Confessions of a Drunken Slut with Anger Management Issues - but that no longer holds true. I don’t have anger management issues any more. Perhaps I will put pen to paper in the New Year and write a realistic book about a manic depressive life. The few I have read all seem to have rather redemptive happy endings whereas I just keep buggering on.

One of the many things people not touched by manic depression underestimate is the massive guilt for making all around one so unhappy. It is not a pleasant condition to live with let alone cope with. The trick is to refuse to believe you are helpless or in any way a victim. It is a medical reality that can be handled by responsible adults. It is not for cissies and there have been times I would have preferred ‘goodbye cruel world’ than keep living with it. But my lust for life has always won through in the end.

Guilt is a pernicious weed that grows in the human mind. I’ve had it for being gay, f0r being manic depressive, for not being a good enough boyfriend or son or God knows what else. It has to be fought, simple as that. Nobody wants to go through life apologising for their existence and I am 100% sure that a life lived in fear is a life half lived. To quote Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, ‘sometimes you have to grab life  by the balls, tuck em behind you and put your best fookin frock on’ … said in a Sheffield accent.

At this point in life I should look like Ursula Andress in She when Ayesha goes back into the blue flame one time too often. I believe it is the steam and the swim in the hotel next door that prevents me looking like a wheel of brie. My ex-husband used to say intelligent people drink and stupid people eat. I think that’s rather cruel but there may be some basis of fact in it. My relationship with food is odd. I love to be cooked for either in a home or a restaurant. I loathe my own cooking and left-overs are anathema for me.

As Paul O’Grady said of Cilla Black, towards the end she was held together with Champagne and gaffer tape. I know how she feels. I also believe that some of us are genetically programmed to have the taste for booze. Liza got it so right when she said most people have a drink and feel a little giddy. She feels grrrrrreat. So do I. It’s an odd phenomenon but not one I choose to rule my life. It soothes my life somewhat so there we are.

It is a little late to change horses at this stage in the race. I think Churchill’s KBO is the right attitude to have as is ‘when you’re going through hell, keep going’. Sometimes I feel like the Duracell bunny banging that damned drum despite a sky-full of crap falling into my lap on a regular basis. What helps – and I mean really helps – is having a home in Bloomsbury Square that is my place of greater safety and one that only my favourite people in the world are invited into. Y0u’re always welcome darling.

 

 

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The Crown Season Two. December 2017.

Dear Rowley,

Netflix is clearly more addictive than laudanum. The Crown Season Two is flawlessly scripted, acted, shot, costumed and bejewelled with a performance by Claire Foy as HM The Queen that is quite simply majestic. The dignity, intelligence, vulnerability and prim certainty of an ‘ordinary christian’ is communicated with such nuance as is the ice in the veins when the monarchy is threatened.

Season Two interweaves the Suez Crisis, Profumo Scandal, JFK’s assassination and a succession of ambitious if flawed Prime Ministers with family affairs: the marriage of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones, the spectre of the Duke of Windsor returning to England, the Duke of Edinburgh’s alleged infidelities and his fatal error in sending sensitive Prince Charles to his Scottish alma mater Gordonstoun.

The Gordonstoun episode allowed two talented young actors to show their chops: Julian Baring as Prince Charles and the extraordinary Finn Elliot as the young Prince Philip in flashback. Matt Smith is fearless in describing the complexity of the Duke of Edinburgh’s character: an alpha male put into petticoats by palace flunkies and emasculated by his wife’s seniority.

I did happen to know about Prince Philip’s youth from Hugo Vickers’ excellent biography of his mother Princess Alice of Greece. The poor chap was exiled and practically orphaned when his mother was institutionalised and his father ran away to Monaco with a dancer. Gordonstoun became his school of hard – if not cruel – knocks that instilled in him a discipline and physical strength that would scar Prince Charles for life.

One of the most affecting scenes was the recreation of the death of Prince Philip’s favourite sister and most of her family in a plane crash and the Nazi state funeral that he was forced to walk ahead of alone with echoes of Prince Harry following his mother’s cortege. The historians and monarchists have been up in arms at the suggestion that Prince Phillip’s feckless father blamed the boy for the deaths. I admit to being uncomfortable on behalf of the living but was immersed in The Crown and unable to step away morally.

Prince Phillip emerges as a petulant man and The Queen a pragmatist within the marriage. His connection with Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler and John Profumo was embroidered for the drama but entirely plausible in the scandalous 60s climate when the age of deference died. Claire Foy makes HM entirely sympathetic as she negotiates public criticism for behaving precisely as she was raised to do so. It is she rather than Prince Philip who took the decision to ‘adapt or die’. She didn’t like it but she took a point of view.

I cannot praise Alex Jennings highly enough as the embittered, selfish and deluded Duke of Windsor whose story as a Nazi sympathiser and traitor is told without varnish or mercy. Watching Greg Wise as ‘Uncle Dickie’ Mountbatten was so uncannily accurate and particularly poignant in his scenes with the young Prince Charles for whom he was a kindly father figure and mentor. Prime Minister Harold MacMillan and his execrable wife Lady Dorothy are stitched-up like kippers.

It is Foy and Smith’s compliment that they didn’t allow Vanessa Kirby and Matthew Goode to entirely steal Season Two as Princess Margaret and Tony Snowdon. Kirby is such a slow burn of brittleness, frustration and sex drive. Bisexual, snake-hipped smoothie chops photographer Snowdon swings with the best of them and is sinfully seductive. Snowdon and Margaret were a metaphor for the rebellion and the desire to cling onto a privileged life that characterised Swinging London. Call it having one’s cake and eating it.

Much comment has been made about the sex scenes between Margaret and Tony. I thought them rather tastefully done and set-up the ensuing bitterness within the marriage when passion was spent and Tony’s manipulation of Margaret’s arrogance and insecurities cut so deeply. I thought The Crown Season Two very cleverly explored the hypocrisy of Margaret, Tony and to some extent Prince Philip pecking at the gilded cage while the majority of British working people lived rather grim lives.

Victoria Hamilton as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother isn’t given the opportunity to develop as anything more than a privileged, peevish woman raging against the end of absolute monarchy. There is a scene where Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and HM prepare to meet a delegation of ‘ordinary people’ at Buckingham Palace that simply does not ring true. It ends with both royal ladies disdainfully pulling on their kid gloves.

I doubt very much that The Queen ever disdained to meet her people or felt blackmailed into letting a little light in on the magic. The televising of the Queen’s speech was a sensible decision entirely in step with technology as was ending presentation at Court, shaking ever more hands and sallying forth into the Commonwealth to pour oil on troubled waters.

By far the most affecting cameo came from First Lady Jackie Kennedy giving Claire Foy the opportunity to show HM’s gamesmanship and steel. JFK and Jackie are portrayed as ruthless opportunists living on lust for power, opportunism and ‘vitamin’ shots administered by Dr Feelgood. With a sense of mischief and manipulation of rank, The Queen grants Jackie an audience who wants to apologise for cruel comments said in jest. Jackie’s apology is rather heart-breaking in the whispery, sly little girl voice and The Queen’s response magnificent. As far as The Crown Season Two is concerned, Claire Foy reigns and entirely rules.

 

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Too Many Cooks. December 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I have a confession. Every time a TV cook appears on film or in print my blood pressure rises like the Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth. It is quite simply baffling to me why anyone can find cooking on telly even remotely stimulating. For all we know the dishes being prepared by Nigella, Jamie, Nadiya and the sainted Mary Berry might smell like the bottom of  a labrador’s basket and taste heinous. I always get the feeling whatever’s being prepared in the wok underneath Nigella’s copious embonpoint might be truly awful despite the lady licking her fingers like a 70s soft porn model.

Perhaps there’s an element of disinterest because, if I had my druthers, I would have a table for lunch at Wilton’s every day and a seat at J. Sheekey’s Oyster bar every night for a late night supper. One does occasionally have to mash a potato or two but quite frankly I’ve lost interest in the food I’m buying before I’ve even got to the check-out. If it were possible to get all one’s daily requirements from litres of sparkling water and lashings of Prosecco I would be a very happy man.

My mother is a superlative self-taught cook who is more ingenious than all of the TV cooks put together. If she put it all in a cookbook she’d make a mint. Speaking of cookbooks, how many more books on baking a cottage loaf can Paul Hollywood get away with? The options for baking bread are surely not infinitesimal. And you can bet your bottom dollar Mary Berry and Pru Leith dread Christmas because they have to come up with new ways to disguise the fact that roasting a turkey is not as complex as quantum physics.

I never follow recipes on the rare occasions I cook because I could probably dine out at Roka every night for the price of the ingredients on a list as long as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s such a lot of fuss over nothing when the Japanese discovered centuries ago that the most healthy diet centres on raw fish, clear soup and avocado. Don’t even get me started on diets. They were the bane of my Grandmother Sherwood’s life who lived for food and got such pleasure out of every bite.

In later life, my Grandmother would ring and ask what I was cooking. I can still hear her indignation when I confessed I was having bangers and mash without gravy. One evening we went through the entire genus of seafood singing the praises of crustacea. ‘ Do you love crab?’ ‘Ooooh. Love crab’. “Lobster?’ ‘Mmmmm’ and so on.

My very favourite meal happens to be a full Devon cock crab served by J Sheekey’s un-cracked on a platter of crushed ice as large as John the Baptist’s head. It is served with lemon and mayonnaise and gallons of fizz. But back to those pesky TV cooks. Nobody would dare criticise our new Queen Mother Mary Berry. But even she must be tiring of finding new ways to stuff a capon.

Jamie Oliver is Marmite. Mind you I take my hat off to the man for managing to write more books than Barbara Cartland all based on a bowl of pasta. This morning he gave the newspapers an ‘it’s hard to be me’ lament saying that once a year he gets really rather down don’t you know. Well, let me tell you depression is a lot easier to negotiate when cushioned by millions of pounds. And any man who calls a child Daisy Boo or Buddy Bear is asking for trouble in later life.

I can’t watch Nigella Lawson without thinking ‘aren’t these new sexbots getting lifelike?’ She undulates round the kitchen like Mae West without the laughs or the sense of irony. People say there is a connection between food and sex but if there is it has evaded me. Making love to a bowl of molten dark chocolate doesn’t really bring the sisterhood along much either. I am a Delia man who appreciates a no-nonsense attitude to food rather than turning it into Carry-On Spatula.

The Great British Bake-Off has made many stars but none who have grasped fame so eagerly as Nadiya. It must have delighted the BBC to have a multicultural winner on so British a format. Nadiya has taken to the public eye like Narcissus staring at his own reflection in a pool of water. I did get rather embroiled in Bake Off because it is TV’s equivalent of Valium. It always perplexed me that even in the final the bakers made a right old hash of their bakes. It’s like switching on the Olympics and getting It’s A Knockout.

I deserted Bake-Off after the move to Channel 4 who always have a talent for screwing-up BBC formats once they’ve paid over the odds for them.  I find Pru Leigh as cold as a baked Alaska and found Noel Fielding and Sandy Toksvig rather a gruesome twosome. Sandy seems awfully pleased with herself and I found Noel as creepy as a graveyard on Halloween night.

Like every other homosexual in London, I did have the River Cafe Cookbook as, evidently, did Nigella who has been fingered for lifting Rose and Ruth recipes for her latest TV show. Mind you, there probably isn’t much new in the zoo that you couldn’t find its origins in Escoffier or Mrs Beeton. I’d be very curious to know how many recipients of TV chef cookbooks actually attempt a single recipe at all. I suspect few. A very few.

 

 

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The Pitfalls of Being a Courtesan. December 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I have in my time been offered more than a few indecent proposals very few of which I have accepted. However, I am noticing a trend in the vie de bohémè for young and old enough to know better men going out of their way to find what is commonly called a Sugar Daddy. I heard the funniest story the other day about a talented young musician who decided the SD route was a matter of urgency. There was a thirty-year age gap between the musician and the art dealer he reeled-in and dated which should have raised alarm bells that shriek louder than Maria Callas.

Passions were high and within days and said art dealer was begging the musician to accompany him to Switzerland for an art auction. The musician demured and love’s young dream returned from Geneva with the promise of a petit cadeau that had to be delivered in person. Our hero was imagining a tiny Titian, perhaps, or a substantial gold Rolex or, at the very least,  pretty cufflink in a Cartier box.

The art dealer arrived on his doorstep armed with flowers and a pretty gift bag tied with ribbon. It weighed as much as a baby chimp making the musician’s heart palpitate with avarice. He unwrapped the gift with eyelashes aflutter only to discover  - drumroll – a giant Toblerone.

Oh the wages of sin! Many women and not a few men have entered into unholy alliances for a joint account and a blindfold for the few occasions when payment on account was necessary. I have to tell you, fortune hunters, it never works. There was another poor boy of my acquaintance who met an older man on an, ahem, infamous gay dating website who went by the moniker Handyman.

As you’re well aware, Rowley, a certain amount of role play and euphemism is necessary when fishing in the murky ponds that are Grindr and Scruff. Well, our hero started flirting with Handyman and got the impression he was Sugar Daddy material from the set of photographs exchanged that would have made a hooker blush.

The conversation via text turned as blue as a Burma sapphire. Handyman was asked if he had any big power tools and courting reached the stage when Handyman agreed to do a house call for an estimate. When Handyman appeared at our hero’s apartment he looked every inch the groomed, handsome silver fox dressed down for the weekend in combat pants and a vest. Our hero made a pass only to be told Handyman didn’t ‘mix business with pleasure’ and was under the impression that the liaison was to measure-up his flat for a shelving unit.

Many a slip between cup and lip, eh? Whether ill or honestly gotten, a Sugar Daddy’s loot isn’t earned by someone who came down with the last shower. Businessmen instinctively know how to get the best return on the smallest investment and I am afraid that gold-digging young gays are ill-equipped to negotiate. Personally, there is no way on God’s earth I would enter into an indecent proposal with a man for whom you’d need an emergency bucket by the bed and chloroform to lie with.

Of course now I have reached the Sugar Daddy age I am afraid I am too old to practise what I preach and learn from others’ mistakes. The funniest Sugar Baby story I heard recently concerned a young barman who thought he could charm an American customer who would have made The Dukes of Hazard’s Boss Hogg look like the Slimcea Girl. The old rogue told him he was in possession of a Kandinsky that he would like to will to said twinky barman.

Would the barman like to see it? Well might you ask. The indecent proposal saw our hero on a train heading over the Alps to an undisclosed bank vault in Innsbruck. Of course he was buggered from Bruges to Lech only to find out that the Kandinsky looked like a finger painting executed by Guy the Gorilla. The road to being a successful Sugar Baby is fraught with scam artists who can spot a greedy young queen at five thousand paces and flatter their egos in order to remove Calvins in the shortest possible time.

Sex might well be the oldest profession but it is not one that can be conducted without asbestos for emotions and a complete disconnect between inclination and action. I take my hat off to the adventurers and adventuresses who have the cojones to do it. For every Pretty Woman there are a million comedic scenarios whereby the predator becomes the prey.

As you can see, I am flashing my Entertaining Mr Sloane theatre poster credentials one more time. Never going to miss an opportunity, right? Well, that poster is a case in point. I was at Newcastle university when invited to pose after a Boucher nude for a Newcastle Playhouse production of Sloane that I wasn’t even in. I did it for the money – and the kicks – and that poster was all over town come graduation. My parents must have been awfully proud.

The point is we all have a price. I would have stripped for the price of a cocktail peanut when I was at college hustling in the Tyne Theatre for about ten bucks an hour. Strike that, your honour. I meant hustling as in working hard behind a bar. I have always stopped short of being celibate as in ‘sell a bit here, sell a bit there’. It isn’t worth the plummeting self-respect. Granted, if the indecent proposal came from George Clooney I would have been swinging naked in a hammock in a second. But sadly most Sugar Daddies look like Jabba the Hutt with a hangover.

Much better young ladies and gentlemen to go for love where you find it and accommodate the bank balance if it’s a goer. Take it from a spiritual tart with a heart who knows what he’s talking about.

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Good Luck! November 2017.

Dear Rowley,

What to make of Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle? Much has been written about the serendipity of Harry’s choice ergo an American mixed race actress of independent means and strident opinions. The inference is that the Royal Family has somehow kept up with the tempo of public opinion. Even more backslapping about how far the monarchy has come in welcoming a divorcee into the fold eighty years after the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s marriage in France was boycotted by the entire family.

Well for one the then King Edward VIII had a lot of public support in his love for twice-divorced American with strident opinions Mrs Simpson. He was hugely popular amongst the people and ultimately stymied into Abdication in a pincer movement between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the Colonial powers and, allegedly, the Duchess of York and Queen Mary.

Equally popular was the love match between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend. The divorced Townsend was substantially older than the fairytale princess but the country was more than ready to let love win. It is rather a mercy that Princess Margaret wasn’t alive to see Miss Markle being paraded like a multi-cultural turkey. I’d imagine the lady was incredibly beady about the divorces of Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew.

Perhaps Mrs Simpson and Peter Townsend’s true crime was to be too old to fit the picture of a dashing royal consort. The monarchy thrives on new blood – as it initially did with the late Diana, Princess of Wales – and had to use every art of spin and suggestion to ease Mrs Parker-Bowles into the family album.

What do you make of Miss Markle? She entirely dominated the engagement interview while Prince Harry practically had hearts circling his head and a dazed, goofy smile on his face. It must be love and love is just the ticket in this period of constitutional uncertainty as the Brexit negotiations sputter like the exhaust pipe of an old banger. Apparently Prince Charles is dancing a jig, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge adore Meghan and even the corgis melt to her touch.

Announcements from The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are never effusive but I detected a whiff of ‘let them get on with it’ as the old regime drifts serenely to an inevitable if hopefully still distant end. What surprised me most about the engagement was Miss Markle’s seeming eagerness to forsake her career as an actress to become (odds on) Duchess of Sussex and become a full-time member of the royal family.

There is a precedent in history. Princess Grace left movie star Grace Kelly behind to marry Prince Rainier and become Her Serene Highness. Apparently Princess Grace was keen to accept Hitchcock’s offer of the lead role in Marnie: an awful, twisted plot as it happened but evidence that the princess was keen to work again. There was a melancholy about Princess Grace having to be serene in the tiny principality of Monaco after being an Academy Award-winning queen of Hollywood.

Forgive the presumption but I would have thought Prince Harry would have been happy to walk away from royal duties and, like his cousin Lord Frederick Windsor, go and live in LA with his actress wife. I can’t imagine the new Duchess being contented with a life of charitable activities, waving and tiaras as feisty as she is. Then again, I’ve never met the lady and she appears to be playing the role of duchess-in-waiting rather brilliantly.

I do wonder whether the Duchess of Cambridge is going to relish a genuine A-list star joining the family; particularly one who is not dissimilar to she in looks or age. To quote The Valley of the Dolls, ‘there’s only one star in the Helen Lawson Show and that’s Helen Lawson’. I did find the engagement interview was a deft performance and that was quite unnerving. Both Diana and Kate were understandably nervous when they announced their engagements. You’d have to be very sure of yourself to give an Oscar-winning performance as ‘Miss Breath of Fresh Air’.

Looking back on the Abdication Crisis, I wonder whether it wasn’t Edward VIII that was the object of loathing within the royal family and Mrs Simpson was simply the scapegoat. King George V positively cursed his son in his dying days saying the boy would ruin himself within a year of the old man’s death. As it happened he did and King George’s other wish – that Bertie become King George VI and Lilibet follow him as queen – also came true.

When he was Prince of Wales, the Duke of Windsor was the closest the royal family ever came to movie star mania until Diana’s arrival in 1981. His clothes were copied, his travels endlessly reported and his penchant for jazz, cocktails and married mistresses made him a ‘Modern’. His mother Queen Mary clearly disapproved even more than King George V. When Duchess of York, the Queen Mother was clearly beady about the glamorous ‘David’ while she was married to the stuttering Bertie.

What nobody’s brought-up yet is the thought that Meghan Markle could be rather like her late mother-in-law. I don’t get the impression she will be a blushing flower or a shrinking violet and will become a major part of the national debate from now on. The privacy Prince Harry wished for her is now over. Time will tell how both adjust to life as a full-time royal couple.

 

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