I’ve been in the land of cheese and novelty dildos, a land where a man in a Paisley cotton frock and cardigan can get on a tram, put a plastic colander on his head and attract no attention whatsoever . This is Amsterdam – where anything goes and frequently does. On my first night I go to Drag Central to play Deal or No Deal in a bar. Noel Edmunds is played by a he/she called Amy Housewine. The banker is played by Deirdre Barlow in a peach velour tracksuit complete with some very dodgy padding in the back AND front bottom areas. She’s obviously going for the prolapsed womb look which, I think is quite pioneering in the world of drag actery. Anyway, we play the game for a while and I win some suspicious looking unguent, following which, for no reason whatsoever, I join with a pocket-sized Asian gentleman to sing ‘Climb every mountain’. I’m here to celebrate E’s birthday. He’s got a house full. One small friend, a mother of three, has flown in from Majorca, another, a recently retired trolly dolly (also quite small), has jetted in from Minneapolis and we’ve got a law lecturer lady (of normal size) from Bury St Edmunds to boot. We are very pan-global. Unfortunately, with five people and only one bedroom, we are having to be creative in our sleeping arrangements. We stick the trolley dolly in the big bed while the girls hunker down on the put-me-up. There’s some talk of lying sideways on which means we can toss and turn without losing anyone over the edge but unfortunately, my legs are way too long so we agree to keep all wriggling to a minimum and snuggle up for the tightest night’s sleep ever. Our host offers us the choice of two teddies but we have to say no – like Jesus, there is simply no room in the inn. By contrast, at a recent jazz night in a Brighton basement, there is plenty of room. The night outside is Siberian raw and the performance is by a bunch of wannabees. Consequently, only a handful of peeps have made it to the gig. In the dim light, we huddle around our cups of cocoa while a girl with bed hair scats, ‘dooby, dooby, doo, wah, wah, wah’, accompanied on the double bass by a man in socks and sandals – very impractical footwear considering the weather I think. There’s a woman on a piano freestyling like a good ‘un but her solos seemingly have no end and the languid lady in a mini-dress who’s taken over the mike doesn’t know where to come in. Thankfully, a man from the back comes looking for the sugar bowl and somewhere in the midst of the ensuing kerfuffle, another man with a saxophone jumps on stage and starts hooting. I can’t write anymore, otherwise I will have to kill myself.
Archive for the ‘time off’ Category
Ladeez und gentlemen, wilkommen in Berlin, a city of grand grafitti and decadent dog dirt, big cakes and long sausages; a city that loves to shove a stiff finger at the establishment yet tut tuts if a pedestrian crosses the road willy nilly on a red Ampelman. Other paradoxes: it’s bad form to woop like a demented banshee at the Berliner Philhamonik but absolutely de rigeur to let rockets off in the hand or better still, chuck them at unsuspecting passers-by. Shabby chic is very big in Berlin, although, I have to say, in East Kreuzberg, it’s more shabby than chic and quite often, positively dangerous. Take C’s apartment; we had to stick rows of Handiman pocket tissues on all the door lintels because obviously the Berliners of 100 years ago were Liliputian and big strapping gels from England had not yet been invented. C’s bathroom was quite a challenge too. The toilet and wash facilities were, for some odd reason, separated only by a waist high wall and a plastic curtain and, since the shower was accessed via an uncloseable door to the kitchen, it was possible for three people to simultaneously eat, poo and wash while keeping up a lively conversation. The ‘bath’ was also obviously designed for a person of reduced stature, quite possibly a gymnast. It was a little like a hip bath but as there was no plug, the only way to wash was to lie back with bent knees and wave the hand-held shower up and down until all bits were cleansed. Unfortunately, I never worked out how to turn over safely to do my back parts and I couldn’t stand up because my size 8s wouldn’t fit into the flat part of the bath unless I had one foot in directly in front of the other, Egyptian style, which rendered me unstable and likely to topple over the small wall and into the toilet. The sleeping arrangements too were a tad unconventional. While I was sleeping in the living room, C’s bed was a bunk bed in the walk-in wardrobe next door with a high up picture window that overlooked the living room. For privacy, C had festooned this handy portal with a nifty little curtain made of J-cloths which he took great pains to draw every evening and open every morning. My first morning in Berlin, C and I went on a wander through the local park to marvel at the drug dealing, to the Tempelhof where they’re growing vegetables on the disused runway and to admire a rather fine urinal that was wonderfully clean and had some intricate tiling on the splash back. Later on I took a bite of C’s Currywurst (anaemic sausage drenched in chemical sauce) which is quite possibly the WURST thing I’ve ever tasted – if you don’t count the ‘pizza’ I once ordered in Turkey that was so inedible, it made me gag although being British, rather than complain, I folded it over and walked out of the restaurant with it under my arm like a clutch bag. More to come…..
A few weeks ago, at about 4am, something landed on my head. It was lighter than a hamster but heavier than a sequin. Still half asleep, I batted if off and returned to my dream where I was making chelsea buns with Kevin Costner in the celebrity version of the Great British Bake Off. In the morning, I found a small green stick on my pillow that on closer inspection, looked suspiciously like the LEG OF AN INSECT. Ages after, I was rummaging in my pant drawer and found a ruddy great cricket nestled in among the gussets and yes, it was one leg down. All of which posed the question, don’t insects who’ve sustained massive injuries such as loss of limbs bleed to death? Also, what was sustaining the cricket in my pant drawer? Later that week, I was in France at a drama workshop, killing time before the cheese market opened. There were 15 Sarah Bernhardt wanna be’s and a couple of Maurice Chevalier’s but there’d been a mix up with the rooms which meant the philosophy debating society had taken the big room and we were relegated to a walk-in wardrobe. Having endured a near-death experience in an Icelandic sweat lodge, my present predicament, being sandwiched between a rotund individual called Florence, an industrial sized filing cabinet and a sloping ceiling all felt perfectly fine. Even when we were invited to do something spontaneous with a feather boa and a cricket bat, I somehow managed to be creative without taking anyone’s eye out. However, after an hour or so of some very energetic improvisation, the lack of air had catapulted some of us into giddy hysteria. Sebastien, a slip of a lad with a pigeon chest and Chinese slippers, started singing ‘Fly me to the Moon’ at the top of his voice and when we played blink murder, my screams and the ensuing kerfuffle almost caused a stacked chair tsunami, at which point the head of the philosophy debating society burst in, complaining that they weren’t able to hear themselves think. Talking about disturbances, I went to see the very French film, Rust and Bone at the cinema the other night and during some post-coital murmurings between a woman who’d had her legs bitten off by a killer whale and a man who punched gypsies for a living, a lady in the row in front trumped loudly. Well that makes a refreshing change.
On the final day of my Icelandic sojourn, the girls suggested we go to a sweat lodge. Now this is not a particularly Icelandic pursuit but in the spirit of doing everything once, apart from incest and drinking your own wee, I agreed to take part. The sweat lodge was located in the back garden of a ramshackle bungalow, down a cinder path just off highway number 1 on the outskirts of Reykjavik. On arrival, we were greeted by two old queens and a herd of rabbits (I know this isn’t the correct collective noun but they were seriously en masse). Everywhere I looked there were bunnies – around our ankles, under the cars, in the bushes. Why there were so many and why they were so tame was never explained but this is Iceland – a country that believes in elves and trolls so let’s say no more. The house itself (which was thankfully bunny-free) was a labyrinth of small interlinked rooms, each one festonned with fairy lights, lurid murals and various eclectic nicky nacky noos. No surface was untouched by the hand of kitsch.
The first stage of the sweat involved putting on some cheap plastic sunglasses that corresponded to our date of birth (I was turquoise), having our pulse points dabbed with a melange of suspicious smelling unguents and then going inside for some wild dancing in the disco room. Here, 18 barefoot men and women in various stages of undress moved, grooved, shimmied and flailed to the likes of Frankie goes to Hollywood, bongo from the Congo and something by Madonna involving the lyrics ‘kill the bitch’. It wasn’t exactly spiritual but we did all get off on the raw energy of ‘Relax, don’t do it’ and I had tremendous fun shaking my maracas. After we’d worked up a light sweat, we put our cozzies on and went out into the chill night air to the sweat lodge itself, a low-level yurt type construction covered with tarpaulin and blankets with no windows and only a small entrance. We had to bend double to get in – scrabbling to find a space in the dark, smoky interior. There we sat, cheek by jowl in a circle around a fireplace waiting for the sweat to start. Then the hot stones came in, the flap went down, the water went on, and the chanting began. ‘ooooooohhh I’m not claustrophobic, I’m not claustrophobic’, I chanted to myself as the Mexican lady with the big legs next to me keeled over. In between each 15 minute session of wailing and panting, the flap would open and someone would throw a wet flannel and a bottle of water at us. By the end of the fifth session, one girl had had a panic attack and legged it and I was rolling around moaning and wiping my face in the dirt – the only piece of cool in the whole ruddy place. Then Nonni (Master of the Flannel and ecstatic dance DJ) said we were done and could leave. I crawled out and collapsed on the grass, a quivering wreck. Nonni came over and threw a bucket of cold water over me and we all got in a hot tub. Later on, around midnight we had some watery soup and Nonni read my rune stones. He said I shouldn’t travel the next day as something would happen. I felt like slapping him.
If I was a boy I would be Bear Grylls but with a slightly smaller nose. He and I share a love for going off-piste although I don’t fancy killing a dog, slicing it down the middle with my Swiss Army knife and waggling my hands around in its hot organs to keep my fingers from dropping off in the Yukon.
I wasn’t exactly in peril last weekend but I did go to Nyman’s Gardens and get a bit lost with Mr Tye the DIY. It started innocently enough; we admired a few big trees, I took pictures of wild garlic and Mr Tye, still in recovery from last night’s bean stew, let rip with some industrial strength trumps. Then I suggested we add a bit of spice into our ramble by leaving the track and striking off into a bush. Naturally, my big hair got caught up in some very angry brambles and I ripped the back of my jeans while hurdling a barbed wire fence. Following this, tempted by a plantation of giant cabbages. I tried to vault a stream but tripped, skidded through the mud and slid into the water. That’s when it got a bit Deliverance. Somehow, we’d wandered into some sort of game reserve complete with makeshift dens, tree viewing platforms, electric fences and men in black with guns. Tye, fearful of having his dark interior plundered by man flesh, quivered behind a tree. I took the hysterical route. Anyway, the upshot was, we were ‘rescued’ by two Chinese photographers who put us on the right track back to the grounds of the house where a couple called Richard and Alison were celebrating their wedding with a bouncy castle and the Buena Vista Social Club.
The next day, I went to a tango class in the Pavilion Gardens with a load of middle aged women and a teacher called Kirsty who had enormous knockers and very thin legs. There were way too many of us for the size of the tent plus there was a ruddy great sofa in the middle which meant we had to mince around in a circle to avoid treading on each other or falling over the furnishings. As per, I was playing the man but then, after we’d learnt a basic promenade, I got flung up against the real article, a midget of a man called Darren who had to take a very firm grip of me to stop me whizzing him off. The idea in tango is to lean in with your head at an angle while keeping your body away from your partner – easy if you’re both the same height but if you’re dancing with a circus freak, you’re prone to toppling. Next up was ‘Miguel’ who told me he was Brazilian but then his accent slipped and he turned out to be Michael from Portslade. Michael had the misfortune of clammy hands and an excess of saliva. Needless to say, I didn’t lock heads with him for fear of an invasion of his oral fluids.
Last weekend we embarked on our South Downs Way odyssey – an epic journey full of emotion, bad map reading and Germolene emergencies. I was a little late owing to a wrong turn in Petworth and the fact that, having been on a speed awareness course last week, I was driving like Miss Marple. Oh yeah, and with no Tom Tom in my car, I was relying on my ‘it’s somewhere around here’ cavalier style of map-reading and the kindness of strangers to locate our rendez-vous, a tiny village called Buriton that was in the arse-end of nowhere. So, an hour late, we all piled into one car and whizzed over Winchester way to another small village which was notable for its fine cottage architecture and a depressed horse. There was a slight delay in starting as my two companions had a struggle to get their poles the right length. Then we lost the dog, who decided she didn’t want to walk 12 miles on her short hairy legs and preferred to run pell-mell up into a stranger’s bedroom. We eventually extricated her by waving a sliver of Tesco’s Finest pressed pork under the bedroom window. And then we were off….Our morning passed pleasingly enough as we traversed along the fine chalky pathways among gently undulating hills although Jeremy (not his real name) began to feel an itch in his general Tomasz Schafanaker region which warranted a bit of pant realignment. After lunch, we were a little disconcerted to find the South Downs Way took us along a very busy A road with very little verge. Brad (not his real name) had the dog on a lead but we were continually being thrust into the hedge by thundering jugganauts and one very aggressive driver even slowed down to say ‘get your fackin’ dog off the road’. We very soon realised that we’d read the map upside down and so had to make a detour through some primrose-festooned woods and up another chalk escarpment to pick up the trail again. By this time, Jeremy’s chafing had escalated and he had to duck off behind some farmyard machinery to apply a slather of Germolene. I took the opportunity to wet my lettuce and only then, did I realise we’d stumbled upon a bunch of paragliders on the other side of the hedge which meant both Jeremy and I had an aerial audience for our arse flashings. That night, having walked 12 miles, we stayed in a pub and ate some pork which, it turned out came from one of Brad’s pigs. Strangely enough, the only other diners in the pub that night were some pudding suppliers from Swanage, two quite rotund individuals who gave us a long lecture about the quality of their Rum Babas. Continuing on a porcine theme, after dinner, we settled down to a game of ‘pass the pigs’ while Jeremy read us a couple of chapters of ‘The adventures of chunky’, courtesy of the pub bookshelf. And so to bed… The following day, we had more mileage and more climbing but the sun shone brilliantly and, thankfully, the Germolene had worked its magic so Jeremy was able to stride out with new-found confidence – although Brad’s dicky knee began playing up. All went well; we had lunch on Butser Hill with some very shouty, bare-chested men, and then we got lost again – this time in Queen Elizabeth Park, right by the A3. We’d taken a detour off the track to visit a cafe in a car park but sadly, the cups of PG and slices of drizzle cake we’d anticipated were a no-show owing to the cafe being closed. We had to make do with my thermos flask of tea (which tasted of coffee) and one Rocky Road biscuit between us and the dog (who had run out of his pooch pellets). However, this did sustain us through the next hour’s twists and turns as we tried to navigate our way out of the woods and back to Buriton and the end of leg one. On the way home, I threw Miss Marple out of the window and assumed my usual Jeremy Clarkson demeanour. Sometimes speed is of the essence.
On my first night in Reykjavik, I was treated to a celestial smorgasbord. We’d popped over to a nearby island to see Yoko Ono turn on the Imagine Peace Tower – a fabulous light installation that’s lit every year to commemorate John Lennon’s birthday. I was mingling at the back of the Reykjavik Ladies’ Choir and trying not to fall: a. over the cliff and b. into a big hole that led to the electrical nerve centre under the marble peace statue. This being not the UK, there were no fences, no keep back signs and no big dayglo bruisers, smoking ‘tabs’ and looking like they’d rather be in the pub than protecting the public from electric shocks and drowning. No, this was casual; this was the Icelandic way. Anyway, the choir had just finished a some lovely tra-la-la peace and love ditty when all of a sudden, up popped Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon. Yoko was wearing a jaunty peak cap while Sean had on a dwarfish top hat. Yoko read a little poem, someone shouted ‘I love you Yoko’ (not me) and then we all sang ‘Give peace a chance’ although, of course, no-one knew the words to the verses so we blah blah blahhed a bit and then Yoko flicked the switch and a column of bright white light came on stretching high up into the clouds. Then, out of the crowds I spied a hulking, Viking brute of a man. Yes, this was the Mayor of Reykjavik, a former comedic actor who I’d seen on BBC4 in a comedy about a petrol station. I waved but sadly, he didn’t see me as it was pitch black and I was wearing a balaclava. As we chugged back to the mainland, up in the sky, the Northern Lights came out to dazzle us. Oh how we ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ – yes, they do ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in Icelandic too. The next day, I was hanging around the Civic Hall, as you do, when all of a sudden, who should pop up but the Mayor. This time, there was no getting away for him. I gushed, as per, and then we caressed and Friend A took a pic. Later on, the lady at the information desk said Kofi Annan was in town too – but sadly for me, had gone off for a geo-thermal soak at the Blue Lagoon.
I have a few things to say about Berlin, city of a thousand sausages. The other week, I was staying in the very colourful Schoneberg district where Christopher Isherwood and other light-footed gentlemen used to galavant with impunity. At the end of my road, there was a. a big pork emporium where men in blue overalls ate sausage standing up, b. lots of lady prostitutes (and a couple that defied gender classification) jay walking among the bmws, and c. a gaggle of maxi-skirted Roma girlies who spent most evenings dancing around a phone box to a Slavic boom box. Around the corner, I had the dubious honour of early doors at Kumpelnest 3000, a fabulously indiscreet former knocking shop boasting elaborately carpeted walls, glitter balls and a very sticky dance floor where repressed housewives regularly flashed their baps. I resisted; I was recovering from an evening spent at a punk rock reunion party with a right charmer called Chaos whose chat up routine involved donning a penguin costume and slapping a pair of dentures on the table. Believe it or not, it takes more than false teeth to seduce me these days, Berlin or no Berlin.
Last Friday, an animal (possibly a bird or a fox on stilts) shat inside my jeans. I wasn’t wearing them at the time; the incident occurred while said jeans were on the line, drying. The excrement was the colour of a beige cardigan and it caused me some consternation because I didn’t see it until I was pulling up my jeans in the bathroom. Now my first thought was that I’d had a little accident. But wait, the offending streak was at the FRONT of my jeans, not the rear. Either something had gone horribly wrong with my back and front bottom plumbing or a careless seagull had eaten some Spanish cucumber and let rip over my washing. Any road up, as they say in Hinckley, I am hoping this incident will bring me luck. Later on that day, I found a slug in my nibble and tuppaware cupboard. It wasn’t eating; it was just lounging around on the bottom shelf. I chucked it over the fence with extreme prejudice. Talking about animals in crazy places, in Berlin last week, I went for a gander at the Brandenburg Gate. As if this marvellous edifice alone wasn’t enough to inspire awe in the tourists, the authorities had seen fit to jazz things up a bit with two teenagers in GDR guard costumes, a gorilla, a chicken and a Darth Vader. And no-one was laughing!
Netball brings out the wind in me. I don’t know what it is, but as soon as I get that bib on, I start evacuating, top and bottom. It doesn’t happen during Pilates, which is odd when you consider that Pilates is all about sucking in hard the vagazzle – a bit like you do when you need a wee on a train but daren’t go in the toilet in case you spontaneously combust, like that women on a train recently. Actually, I may have made the spontaneous combustion bit up but there was a woman who burnt to death in a Gatwick Express toilet recently, wasn’t there? Anyway, back to the programme. Last Monday, during a particularly complex Pilates manoeuver involving me lying spreadeagled on my stomach while arms and legs flapped about in a sort of dry breaststroke, I thrashed out, fingering the lady with the big bunions several times. My problem is that I have a ‘long span’, as my Australian netball coach likes to call it (she is too polite to call me a freak) which is why, when I’m marking an attacker and they’re trying to get the ball past me, I can bat it back into their face and make their nose bleed.