Falling in love with London again

I’m writing this from the front seat of a double decker bus, lurching away from the City towards Brixton, where I have found the perfect little room to lay my head whilst I await my wife’s return from Brazil.

Earlier today, I spent my lunch break in Embankment Gardens, reading and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine against the back of my neck.

It’s raining now, but it’s that peculiar early summer rain, with a couple of persistent sunbeams continuing to glint off the tallest buildings, creating a beautiful golden glow through the drizzle.

I am in London, but I’m happy.

Several months ago, we moved to Kent to save money and to start planning our country wedding. We soon fell in love with the gently rolling hills, clean air and sense of community. We never wanted to return to London, but soon realised that work would bring us back here.

At first I was utterly miserable at the thought of returning to the city, a place I associated with the dark and lonely years I spent following university. But now I’m here, it feels different. Lighter. More optimistic. Maybe it’s because my wife is returning home, maybe it’s because my life is far brighter now than it ever has been, but I’m starting to fall in love with London again. I can see it’s beauty now, amidst all the traffic and crowds and costs, and it’s quite something.

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Guest Post for Found on the Underground: Embankment

The following is a guest post a wrote for the rather brilliant Found on the Underground. Huge thanks to Sarah Karacs for giving me the opportunity to write this.

Selling Point

Not only is the tube stop a major transport hub of central London, it is – more famously – something of a magnet for lost Spanish school groups. Stepping out of the tube carriage onto the platform, you’ll be met by the cheery newsagent as he guards his treasure trove of sweets and fags. Like a Zone 1 Smaug, he caresses the Crunchies lovingly with his eyes, darting suspicious glances at anyone who even dares to browse through his Precious Things.

Making your way up the slightly-too-narrow stairs and into the main hall of the station, you’ll notice that inspirational quotes have been lovingly written out onto a standard-issue TFL notice board, presumably to give a glimmer of hope to the otherwise miserable commuters filing past every morning.

As you leave the station, you’ll come across the best florist in London, run by the happiest Cockney woman you’ll ever meet. She sells beautiful bouquets, roses and pot plants – perfect if you’re looking for something to liven up your desk or if you have inadvertently insulted your spouse’s cooking and need an emergency token of apology.

kiosk

Fuel Up

Head up Villiers Street and you’ll find an array of options for the hungry carnivore; Herman ze German offers the best sausages this side of Duesseldorf, with perfectly crunchy, oil-free baked fries and just the right amount of spicy currywurst. A couple of doors down isLupita, a good spot for a sit-down burrito or tasty Mexican salad.

If you can cope with the crowds of the Strand, wander on down to the Port House, a hidden gem for candlelit tapas and wine, and the speediest and friendliest service in the area.

In a rush? Avoid the usual chain stores – Pret, Itsu, Eat, of which there are dozens – and instead grab a salad or soup from Korean street food-inspired Kimchi, which also offers bench-style seating to catch up with friends over plum tea.

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Broaden Your Mind

Got an hour to kill? Check out the RSA on John Adam Street for free lunchtime and evening lectures on a variety of topics, from the rise of alcohol-related crime to the history of cultural values in Maoist China.

The National Gallery is just a hop, skip and a jump away at Trafalgar Square, providing ample opportunity for art-lovers to admire the Holbein’s and Van Dykes. When in need of a coffee break, visit the National Café or Espresso Bar for a pit stop.

Alternatively, cross Hungerford Bridge to the South Bank and visit the South Bank Centre, which often has outdoor exhibitions and events, especially in the summer months. Bookworms should pop into Foyles underneath the Royal Festival Hall for a browse, especially if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten track guidebook or history of London (Peter Ackroyd’s ‘London: A Biography’ is a particular favourite).

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Cut a Rug

Now to the fun bit: partying. One of the best but often overlooked hang-outs in the area isRetro Bar – one of the oldest gay bars in London. Cheap and cheerful with a mixed, laid-back crowd, it’s a great place to kick off a night out.

For those you hankering for a spot of Mother’s Ruin, head over to Gordon’s Wine Bar on Villiers Street or the Princess of Wales next door. Great gin and tonics, as long as you don’t mind the crowds elbowing their way to the bar. If it’s a sunny day and you can nab a space outside, it’s definitely worth it.

Depending on your persuasion, you may decide to pay a visit to Heaven to show off your moves and maybe catch the eye of that lucky someone. Be warned, their foam parties can be lethal – this author almost drowned in six feet of chemical fluff and had to be rescued by a glamorous drag queen in 10 inch heels. It was awesome.

Once you’re all partied out, run down to Trafalgar Square, dip you toes into the fountain, clamber atop the lions and breathe in the night air. Watch the night buses speed by, the hen nights stagger past and remember – this city is yours. Enjoy it.

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A Love Poem

I wish I could take your scent
The warm aroma of cinnamon and cocoa
Bottle it.
Spritz some on my pillow when I feel alone
Dab it on my thighs, between my breasts, the nape of my neck.
An echo of your touch.

I miss your black liquid eyes,
Sweeping across my body.
I want your delicate hands, with your olive oil skin
To caress every crevice of my body
To feel your breath on my cheek
To hear the soft lilt of your voice in my ear.

You are beautiful to me, my love.
An exotic creature,
Flying in a blaze of colour and spice to share my bed.
Stay with me here, beneath the sun-dappled sheets twisted around our bodies.
Do not let me tame you
Keep your black liquid eyes and sun-drenched scent
Just leave a drop for me.

Tube Station, September

The platform was dusty and humid

Filled with besuited commuters, filling the air with sweat and strain and stress.

 

A white-winged butterfly fluttered into view.

Rested on the concrete floor

Heaved itself up

Once, twice, again and again and again, finding space between feet, bags, fast food wrappers.

 

Streams of bodies continue to fill the concrete pipe

No-one notices but I.

 

Wings tinged with a greenish hue

Tainted by the hot grey air around.

 

Closer you leap

I urge you to come rest at my feet

I’ll protect you, keep you safe

Shield you from impurity and corruption.

 

A sudden shrieking wind picks up

Launching a cool breeze against ties, coats, hair

Providing welcome respite from the stifling suffocation.

 

In it comes

Pushing, screaming, demanding attention

A red and white stampeding monolith.

 

Heads turn, elbows jostle

Toes step upon each other in the rush to assert personal space.

 

And as the stinking, screeching serpent shoots along the tracks

Your wings lift you up

By your own effort or the force of the carriages, I cannot tell

You veer towards its path

And the last I see of you is one tiny, delicate wing, as you are swallowed by the darkness.

Commuter Love

I’d forgotten my book that day

Some heavy fantastical tome or anti-consumerist treatise most like.

I squeezed myself into the tube, planning to do something wholesome with my evening

Do some exercise

Clean the kitchen

Phone my mother.

 

A pale slender wrist was the first I saw of you

Turning the pages of some free commuter rag.

A sweaty besuited businessman moved his enormous rump out of the way, revealing a delicate neck, covered by soft peachy fuzz.

Hair fair and cropped short like a boy’s

Fine and golden in the usually unforgiving strip lights.

 

Crisp white shirt, buttoned all the way up

Blue chinos and brogues.

 

Your chin was plump and wrinkled as you chewed your bottom lip.

A small beige bruise on your forearm.

 

I wanted to lean into your scent, kiss your bare neck.

Feed you, undress you, laugh with you.

 

We got off at the same stop, as I had hoped we would.

You stepped in front of me, my eyes right behind that perfect neck.

I followed you up the escalator, aching for you to turn around and acknowledge me.

Perhaps we could know each other

We could smile and say hello every evening

Become the start of some beautiful commuter romance.

 

But as we both strode through the barriers, out into the great art deco hall, you turned towards the other exit

My body cried out to follow, to catch the smell of you just one more time

But I had to turn the other way

And merely hope to see you tomorrow.

Gaga: An Outsider’s Best Friend?

This article originally appeared here.

But, she’s not even fit’ says a certain straight male friend, ‘I don’t get all the nudity and stuff if she’s not fit.’ And so it is that the debate of Lady Gaga and her appeal to the queers and weirdos of the world rises again.

To those of us looking in from the outside of the sugary, fluffy world of mainstream pop culture, Gaga’s appeal is exactly that; although she’s still a skinny, middle-class white girl like the rest of the pop tart army, she’s not ‘conventionally’ attractive.Body snarkers find great delight in pointing out her voluptuous derriere and Roman nose, and the cheaper glossies frequently mock her small but beautifully formed breasts in their gossip pages, using the notoriously vile Red Circle to point out her physical imperfections. All this is indicative of what these Gaga-haters revile most about her; the way she bares herself in all her glory, shoving her body – and therefore her sexuality – in your face, daring you to question her. She embraces the dirty, gritty side of herself; indeed, she commodifies it, selling it back to the corporate world for multi-million dollar endorsement deals.

Gaga marching for gays in Washington

Her obsession with commercialisation doesn’t simply take the form of laughably obvious product placements; she presents herself as an object, therefore satirizing the very nature of western capitalism and its focus on young, nubile bodies and their market value. She takes ‘sex sells’ to the extreme, revealing the raw, even deviant side of sexual desire whilst simultaneously demonstrating that it can’t simply be bottled and sold back to the consumer.

Watch the Alejandro video – mind you, seeing as its had over 16 million views, and you’re probably a lady of the gay persuasion, chances are you already have. It’s essentially a glorious, nine-minute celebration of hot, sweaty, leather-bound BDSM queerness, filled with enough blatant homoeroticism to keep the message boards on Gaydar buzzing for at least another six months. She proudly proclaims her bisexuality in a way far more genuine and sincere than the Katy Perrys and Britneys of this world could ever achieve. Sure, it may be all for show, but Gaga demonstrates such true and endearing support for the LGBT community that it’s hard not to feel at least some affection towards her.

Out in the yard in the Telephone video

She revels in her raw, slutty, dominatrix image, proclaiming her desire to ride your disco stick whilst posing on the cover of Q with a rather alluring strap-on (a brilliant, fuck-you response to the ridiculousness that is the media rumour mill). It might be OTT, in might be in your face, but at least it’s honest. She has sex, lots of it, she enjoys it, and she likes to sing about it, an approach far more empowering than the airbrushed, vanilla, incredibly straight sexuality of the Mileys and Taylor Swiftsof this world, whose declarations of ‘purity’ and virginity merely reinforce their status as sexual objects and the belief that female sexuality is inherently sinful, nothing more than a commodity to be given to The One in return for eternal love and respect – ‘cos that’s totally how it works. Those who push away from such an image in an attempt to rebel against their early incarnations – Britney, Christina – feign bi-curiosity to appeal to the ever-present male gaze. It’s arguable that Gaga is also adhering to this model, but surely the filthy, visceral nature of her act, the way she highlights the performitivity of sexuality in a way that would make Judith Butler proud, suggests otherwise?

GaGa straps it on for Q Magazine

In a world of Silver Ring pledges, Ex-Gay movements and Madonna-Whore complexes, Gaga is a refreshing antidote to the impossibly beautiful, completely contradictory, sexy-but-sweet model every ‘good girl’ is expected to fulfill. She epitomizes everything and everyone outside the mainstream, whilst simultaneously working within it for her own advantage. You’ve got to give the girl some credit: who else can make a video out of every gay girl’s fantasy – hot androgynous butches and bitch-fights in the middle of a prison that dresses its inhabitants in S&M gear and fuck-me boots? I’ll take that over your standard writhing, warbling, and boringly hetero starlet any day.

 

Buffy the Patriarchy Slayer

Originally written a few months ago now, this ramble has appeared on TheMostCake.co.uk and Oxford WomCam zine (of which I’m still waiting for a copy, get on it Terrell). Any thoughts/comments welcome.

Since first appearing on our telly screens in the halcyon days on the late 90s, Buffy has captured the hearts of a million girls (and boys) worldwide. Whether it’s the kick-ass moves, the witty dialogue or the damn sexiness of the show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer finds its fans in all walks of life, but particularly, it seems, from the gay/feminist path. I’m certainly no exception, having drooled over the Buffster once or twice in our younger years. Sure, the credits may have rolled for the last time as long ago as 2003, but the series seems as fresh and relevant as ever. Here are my top reasons why we can’t get enough of the Scooby Gang.

1. Buffy the Patriarchy Slayer Joss Whedon is, unashamedly, unequivocally feminist. In interviews, he proudly proclaims how he wrote Buffy as a response to the clichéd damsel-in-distress set-up of many vampire stories (see Twilight). Indeed, watching today’s anaemic, abstinence-obsessed vamp flicks, with their mopey love interests and embarrassingly wimpy girls, it’s easy to pine for the solid, strong women of Sunnydale. Buffy herself is clearly a feminist role model, with her no-shit attitude to misogyny and ability to beat up any guy (demonic or human) who gets in her way. But there’s also Joyce, her mother, who represents the strength many single mothers need to get on in today’s society, whilst retaining a sense of humour. At the end of the day, it’s always the women that are doing the rescuing; ever noticed how many times Xander, Giles or Spike need saving by the fairer sex? Point made.

Similarly, unlike in Twilight, the show was always unafraid to deal with issues of sex and sexuality head on. In the second series, Buffy decides to have sex with her vampire boyfriend Angel (the ‘Care Bear with fangs’, as Cordelia dubbed him). Sure, it ends with Angel losing his soul and becoming an evil, murderous bastard again, but at no point is it implied that it’s a ‘punishment’ for Buffy taking control of her own sexuality. At the end of the series, Buffy sends Angel to Hell by penetrating him through the chest with a huge phallic sword. And he gets sucked into a big fiery whole. Man, do we love metaphors. Plus, Angel was much more interesting when he was evil.

Yet despite all the trauma and drams of her ‘first’, Buffy continues to have a sex life. From her college years, we get never-ending shots of her writhing around with dull All-American Riley (yawn), or sexy but demonic Spike (yay), implying that her stamina in the battlefield is matching by her stamina in the bedroom.

2. The soundtrack Music was always a big part of Buffy; drawing heavily from the grunge/indie scene of the 1990s, much of the soundtrack was dominated by awesome female-fronted bands such as Garbage, Hepburn and K’s Choice. For many viewers growing up the Willow, Xander et al, Buffy provided a resource base for accessing alternative artists. Plus, it had one of the coolest theme songs of all time, sung by the geeky-but-punky Nerf Herder.

Music was so important to the series that an entire musical episode was made during the sixth series, Once More, With Feeling. Taking many of the clichés from musicals and turning them on their head, the episode featured Xander and Anya in a retro pastiche of the horrors of coupledom, to Tara revealing her crumbling trust in Willow (sob!). There was even a song about how great it is to get mustard stains out of clothes. All in all, it was amaze.

3. Wara/Tillow Ah, Willow and Tara. Buffy was, let’s face it, pretty damn brave to show a same-sex relationship on a huge network in the US in the early noughties. Hell, can we really say it’s much better now? Sure, The L Word did great things in terms of lesbian visibility on TV, but how many times can you flick over to Fox, or UPN, or the BBC and see a lesbian love story unfolding (here’s hoping Lip Service will change that…)? Joss Whedon famously had to tiptoe very carefully around TV censors when implying the sexual nature of Tara and Willow’s relationship, but as shown below, he thankfully wasn’t always too subtle.

Unfortunately, when it became clear that Willow and Tara were, y’know, big ol’ gays, the response wasn’t too great:

‘For real: how fucking disappointed was I in the American public after Tuesday night? Of course I realize the rabidly homophobic posting contingent represents a smaller percentage of Americans than the EVIL GAYS they were posting about, but that’s not it. It’s the fact that everyone went nuts about it THIS WEEK, when this has clearly been going on for MONTHS? Did anyone see the spell scene in episode 16? Hello? It’s the not the bigotry that offends me, it’s the lack of filmic insight.’ – Joss Whedon, May 2000

The relationship also inspired some lovely/terrifying fan art.

4. It was realistic

Ok, this probably doesn’t make a great deal of sense when we’re talking about a vampire show, but this is the very thing that makes Buffy so great; it didn’t ignore reality. Joss and his writers knew that they couldn’t just lie down and let right-wing America trample all over them, censoring every gritty or painful plotline. They stood up for their storylines, for their characters. So yeah, Willow and Tara broke up, Buffy’s mother died of tragic but entirely non-supernatural causes and Spike tried to rape Buffy. Because that’s what life is like, and that’s what the show intended to portray; the vampires, demons, Hellmouths were all elaborate metaphors. Whether it was Willow becoming addicted to magic, Buffy falling into a sexually violent relationship or Angel losing his soul, they were all allegories for the real, terrifying experiences of young men and women. As the fabulous queer theorist and Buffy critic Roz Kaveney suggests, Buffy is all about trying to get on with other human beings; the sex, the fights, the break-ups and make-ups are all part of ordinary life. But throw vampires into the mix, and it all gets a lot hotter.