Monday, 19 December 2011

Singers Who Changed My Life


This week I would like to write about something that is a very close to my heart, but has, alas, become something of a minority pastime. Classical music, and more particularly classical singers. Earlier this year, John Steane, an expert on voices and an eminent critic, died at the age of 83. He had his favourites of course (who doesn’t?), but I learned a lot from old John over the years, and I will miss his wonderfully constructive musical criticism. Some years ago, the editor of Gramophone Magazine asked him to write an article detailing the 12 singers who had changed his life, the one injunction being that one of them should still be active as a singer. For someone who knew his writing, his choices didn’t come as much of a surprise. I recently re-read this article and it got me to thinking of who mine would be. Having decided to restrict my list to 10, I then got round to deciding on those that have said something personal to me, the voices that have spoken to me down the years, from when I first started to enjoy opera and lieder as an impressionable teenager, up until now. 

Maria Callas
Anyone who knows me won’t be in the least surprised by my first choice.  I first heard the voice of Maria Callas on an LP reissue of her first recordings, originally issued on 78s. The Mad Scene from Bellini’s I Puritani was coupled with the Liebestod (in Italian) from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and excerpts from her early Cetra recordings of La Traviata and La Gioconda. This was a voice like none I’d ever heard. It was a large voice, with dazzling flexibility, a rarity in itself, but it was the way that voice penetrated your very soul, a voice bursting with emotion. I may not have appreciated then her amazing musicality, but I certainly recognised the work of a genius. Callas made you feel that the music sprang from her throat newly minted, that she meant every word, every note. More than that, it was the way the voice could change from the sweet innocent Elvra to the womanly Isolde, from the passion of the courtesan Violetta, to the almost primeval sounds of her Gioconda. It hardly seems believable now, given that Callas’s recordings have formed the backbone of EMI’s Italian opera catalogue for years, but most of them were unavailable at the time. I slowly built up my collection by scouring second hand shops and pouncing on any imported issues that made their way into specialist record shops.  As I slowly built up my collection, Callas introduced me to the world of Italian opera. Nowadays I can be aware of some of the vocal faults, especially in the later recordings, but nobody has ever come within a mile of her fantastic musicality. For evidence of her musical skills, no better example could exist than her Leonora in Il Trovatore, full of aristocratic phrasing and almost Mozartian delicacy. She was also an amazing vocal actor, and though she has a voice that is instantly recognisable, she continually changes the weight of that voice to suit the character. It is not, though, merely a change in vocal weight. For instance, she may use the same lightness of touch for Amina in La Sonnambula as she does for Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, but they are still two completely different voice characters, and she can make us see that happiness, for instance, is quite a different thing for Amina from what it is for Rosina. Callas is still my touchstone for all the roles she sang (I can almost hear her in my mind’s ear in some of the ones she didn’t), and, though I recognise that some have made prettier sounds, there will always be a moment, maybe a single word, where Callas’s unique colouration will suddenly do something to nail the character as no other singer does. No doubt her glamour and tempestuous personal life did much to fuel my youthful ardour, but now she has been dead for over 40 years, the dust has settled, and it is her musical gifts for which she will be remembered.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
My next choice might seem a little more surprising, a singer as far away from Callas as it might seem possible to be. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is the singer who introduced me to Mozart, Richard Strauss and lieder. Her recordings of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, and of the Vier letzte Lieder were my first exposure to these works, and have remained in my collection ever since. A voice shot  through with laughter, she also made many great recordings of lighter works, and her disc of Operetta Arias can lighten the spirits like no other. She and Callas admired each other enormously (their repertoires were very different of course), and though they only made one recording together (Puccini’s Turandot), they met often, as Schwarzkopf was the wife of Callas’s record producer, Walter Legge, on one occasion Schwarzkopf giving Callas an impromptu singing lesson in the middle of the restaurant at Biffi Scala. Schwarzkopf was a good person to ask. She rarely put a foot wrong, and it is this attention to detail, that some find gets in the way of the music. There can be a lack of spontaneity, it is true, and, where Callas is able to conceal the huge amount of work that goes into each of her musical recreations, Schwarzkopf can be accused of artifice. Her Liu in the above mentioned Turandot may not sound for one moment like a slave girl, but I love her singing of the role, so beautiful and so richly nuanced.  

Dame Janet Baker
Sifting through my memories now, I come to a singer I heard live before I heard on record. I first heard Dame Janet Baker in a performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde at the Royal Festival Hall, whilst I was at college. Unfortunately I never got to see her in opera, but I did hear her live in concert on many occasions. In a very different repertoire, she had an almost Callas like intensity and an ability to sing pianissimi  that somehow reached the furthest recesses of the hall. Dame Janet introduced me to the music of Monteverdi and Handel, Bach and, of course, Elgar’s Sea Pictures (memorably coupled to Jacqueline Du Pre’s seminal recording of the Cello Concerto). She was also a great Berlioz singer. I actually prefer her recording of Les Nuits d’Ete to Crespin’s famous one, and I doubt her recording of the closing scenes of Les Troyens has ever been bettered. 

Placido Domingo
Fritz Wunderlich
Placido Domingo’s was a voice I first heard on record in an early recital of arias, but I will never forget the thrill of first hearing him live at the Royal Opera House, in La Fanciulla del West, if memory serves me right. Domingo certainly had presence and a glamorous voice to go with it. A real singing actor, he seemed to improve as a performer every time I saw him. Incredibly, he is still singing today, though he has moved over to the baritone repertoire recently, taking on such roles as Simon Boccanegra and Rigoletto. He may not have introduced me to any new repertoire (though many of his recital records took him refreshingly off the beaten track), but he did instil in me a love of the tenor voice, which led me to investigate the work of other tenors, two of which also make it onto my list. Firstly there was Fritz Wunderlich, who had a voice of overwhelming heady beauty. He died at a time when his interpretative artistry would have been reaching its maturity, his final concert in Edinburgh being testament to that, but if you ever want to hear someone revelling in the sheer joy of singing, just listen to his DG performance of Lara’s Granada. Admittedly it is in German and the splashy arrangement is pretty vulgar, but he sings with a freedom and passion that would be the envy of any Latin tenor – and what about that final top C? Phew!

Jon Vickers
Then there was Jon Vickers, who had a voice and manner of startling individuality, and an intensity of performance that could almost be too painful to listen to. Starting in Italian opera (he sang Giasone to Callas’s Medea), he progressed to Wagner, singing towering performances of Tristan and Siegmund. His Otello suffered like no other and his Peter Grimes, mercifully preserved on film, is one of the greatest creations of all time.

Maggie Teyte
Next on my list are two more ladies, one from well before my time and one who died only recently. I first heard the voice of Maggie Teyte in a performance of Duparc’s Chanson Triste and was totally captivated. Her records were not easy to get hold of, but I finally managed to track down a copy of EMI’s “L’Exquise Maggie Teyte”, whilst a friend gave me a copy of a Decca recital, which included her wondrous rendering of ‘Tu n’es pas beau’ from La PĂ©richole, which shows off to advantage her gloriously individual chest tones, and a twinkle in the eye.
Victoria De Los Angeles

If Teyte lead me to explore more French song, then Victoria De Los Angeles helped and then added to it a new world of Spanish music. Truth to tell, I hadn’t much liked her when I first heard her as a rather insecure and out of sorts Hoffmann Antonia, and I think it was probably her record of the Canteloube Chants d’Auvergne that first led me to reassess. That Antonia was misleading and other operatic roles, not least her Manon, Marguerite (Faust), Butterfly and Mimi display a golden voice allied to a winning personality. I also had on LP a live performance of her singing a wonderfully touching and trusting Desdemona to Del Monaco’s Otello at the Met, which remains in my memory far more than many of the assumptions by singers we might think more suited to the role.

Tito Gobbi with Callas in Tosca
So far the list is rather top heavy with female singers, so I am happy to include as my next choice a baritone, colleague of Callas’s and one who encompassed many of her qualities. Like Callas, Tito Gobbi had an immediately recognisable voice and always sang with a wealth of colour and understanding. I can still remember the shattering effect of my first listen through Rigoletto, actually the first ever time I’d heard the opera. His cries of “Gilda” at the end of Act 2 after she has been abducted went straight to the heart. He may not have had the most beautiful baritone voice in the world, but, like Callas’s, it had a myriad of different colours. And like her, though always recognizably himself, he was always able to change his timbre to suit the role he was playing. 

David Daniels
Looking back at this list of singers, I realise that they all have certain things in common; the individuality of their voices (you only have to hear a few notes to know who it is) and their ability to make the listener see as well as hear. This is no less true of my final choice, a singer still very much before the public today. Some years ago, I was more or less dragged to a concert of Vivaldi sung by David Daniels and accompanied by Europa Galante conducted by Fabio Biondi. Till then, apart from the Four Seasons and the Gloria, I had had little enthusiasm for Vivaldi’s music and had a total antipathy for countertenors in general. Daniels changed all that. Here was a voice of surpassing beauty, coupled to a marvellously natural personality. It was a total conversion and Daniels has now opened the door on a whole world of music I had previously ignored, which shows it is never too late to expand one’s horizons. I have hardly missed any of his appearances in this country, and, like all the singers on this list, he has a gift for communication vouchsafed to just a few.

Of course, apart from these, there have been many memorable performances. I recall the excitement of Agnes Baltsa’s Carmen with the no less memorable Don Jose of Jose Carreras; the superb Dejanira of Joyce Di Donato; Angela Gheorgiu’s first Violetta, and RobertoAlagna’s Romeo; Kiri Te Kanawa’s exquisitely, if placidly, sung Fiordiligi (with Baltsa again, as an adorably funny Dorabella); Renee Fleming in Previn’s AStreetcar Named Desire. These too will always stay in the memory, but I send my gratitude to the ten on my original list, for through them I have discovered a whole world of great music. They may not necessarily be the ten greatest singers of all time but they have enriched and enlightened and can truly be called singers who have changed my life.

Selections from some of their recordings here

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Storm in a teacup?


Is it just me, or are the bible bashers and bigots getting just a little bit more crazy in their attempts to stop progress? 

Only last month the leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, Alan Craig, writing in the Church of
England Newspaper, was comparing gay activists to Nazis. In an article entitled Confronting the Gaystapo, he compares recent gay rights advances to the political battles won by the Nazi movement before the outbreak of World War 2, and David Cameron’s backing of gay marriage to the 1938 Munich Agreement, where Neville Chamberlain attempted to appease Hitler by allowing Germany to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. His evident ignorance of history in no way makes up for the offensiveness of his comments. Does he not know what happened to gay men in the concentration camps during Hitler’s reign of terror? Does he not know that it was a gay man, Alan Turing, who was largely responsible for Britain’s defeat of Germany (a fact also conveniently forgotten by the post war British Establishment, who pretty much hounded him to his death, but that is a different matter). Craig didn’t make himself seem any saner when he later backed up his “pertinent” arguments, saying that he wasn’t referring to “ordinary gay people, but the leadership”, whatever that may mean. Fortunately nobody took him very seriously and the whole affair soon fizzled out. 

But he is not the only one.  Religious leaders are still getting very hot under the collar about the whole marriage issue. Only the other day, the Rev James Gracie was comparing homosexuals to paedophiles and thieves. He’s not homophobic, you understand. He just thinks that it’s a lifestyle choice (like paedophilia and burglary), and we can choose not to be gay. Mind you he also believes that women must not preach in church and that their primary role is in the home. Presumably he’s not sexist either.

I’ve already written a piece on the gay marriage issue and, as I’m already on record as saying, I do think that the words we use matter. That said, please don’t shoot me down in flames when I say I agree that religious establishments should not be forced to conduct same sex marriages. Religion is surely a matter for personal conscience or belief, and should be completely separate from the state. It isn’t, but it should be. The only legally binding marriage (whether it be that between a man and a woman or two people of the same sex) should be a civil one. If people should then want to go through some sort of religious ceremony, then that should be a matter for them and their consciences. It should carry no legal weight whatsoever. That way, individual churches would be able to choose what path they would prefer to take. This is nothing new. I know of at least one Church of England minister who would marry divorced people in church and who, long before the introduction of civil partnerships, would also bless gay unions. Clearly there has always been room for manoeuvre. You just had to shop around. 

So why are religious leaders so quick to turn down this extra source of income? Let’s face it marriage ceremonies bring in a lot of money. The majority of couples who marry in church have hardly ever been in a church in their lives and probably don’t go again once they are wed. Does the church question them closely about their religious beliefs? In most cases, probably not. They are quite happy to take the money, knowing full well that the only thing on the bride’s mind is how pretty she will look in that nice white dress. For most the only significance of a church wedding is that the bride can, for one day, believe she is Kate Middleton. Given that the new law does not force faiths to conduct same sex marriages, but allows those faiths that have no objection, to conduct civil partnership ceremonies on their premises, I can’t see why so many religious leaders get so het up. Isn't it better just to put up and shut up, and of course look forward to all that extra revenue?

It would seem so, Baroness O'Cathain who put forward a motion in the Lords to annul the new regulations, that came into force on 5 December, withdrew it at the last minute, before it could be voted on. Finally common sense prevailed and the bill went through unchallenged. All just a storm in a teacup then.



Thursday, 1 December 2011

Personal Responsibilty


Today (December 1st) is World Aids Day. Facebook is of course full of posts about it. There are posts commemorating friends who have died, posts about the increase in the numbers of people with HIV, the numbers who don’t know they have the disease, the benefits of early diagnosis, the lack of visibility (nobody at the BBC wears a red ribbon these days), but one piece posted by my friend Brent Nicholls caught my eye. I hope he won’t mind if I reproduce it here.

NOWADAYS YOU DON'T CATCH HIV,  YOU ASK FOR IT
 
Can you believe this guy? 
  • hunk 1: see that guy over there, he gave me HIV
  • hunk 2: what? How? When?
  • hunk 1: he fucked me without a condom...last year
  • hunk 2: why did u let him do that?
  • hunk 1: I didn't
  • hunk 2: (suddenly looking angry) HE RAPED U?
  • hunk 1: no, no...
  • hunk 2: huh? then how did it happen?
  • hunk 1: met him on Manhunt, so i went over and he wanted to fuck me...so I let him...
  • hunk 2: you didn't take any condoms with you?
  • hunk 1: i ran out and it was late...anyway, he didn't tell me he was positive.
  • hunk 2: (looking confused). U went for sex and didn't take any condoms? Ur an idiot...he didn't have any.....?
  • hunk 1: don't know
  • hunk 2: u didn't ask?
  • hunk 1: (kind of fidgeting) no, but if he wanted to fuck me bareback he should of mentioned he was positive...
  • hunk 2: let me get this right...u go to a guys house with no rubbers, don't ask him if he had any, then let him fuck u raw and blame him for not telling you he was positive? You do know how u can get HIV right?
  • hunk 1: yeah....but he should...
  • hunk 2: did u tell him u were negative?
  • hunk 1: no why should I?
  • hunk 2: because u let him fuck u raw u dick, what do u think was going through his mind...'oh this guy is HIV neg because he is allowing to fuck me raw...'
  • hunk 1: well, no....yes ...he should say.....
  • hunk 2: name one guy who barebacks that isn't positive...
  • hunk 1: I wasn't...
  • hunk 2: really? How does offering your arse raw say to someone...say i'm negative'...and guess what, your not! Barebacking only leads down one road...the only difference is time! (getting angry)
  • hunk 1: why the fuck you getting pissed off at me....he's the one who infected me.
  • hunk 2: look, if you haven't got enough respect for yourself to have safe sex and take responsibility for yourself....why do u think a stranger from Manhunt should give a fuck. Ur just another hole to fuck to him, a willing barebacking hole.
  • twat 1: why are you saying that....
  • hunk 2: don't mean to offend, in this day and age we all know how HIV spreads....you didn't get HIV, you asked for it. People who are HIV negative have safe sex, that is why they are negative. It's not rocket science...
  • twat 1: but I was negative....
  • hunk 2: no, you weren't...you were just standing in the HIV queue with all those others...and finally got to the front....it's no big deal, your choice....but blaming someone else for something that you consented to knowing all the risks....
  • twat 1: but....
  • hunk 2: look...MAN UP. Accept responsibility for yourself and stop blaming others for your own stupidity.
  • (and with that hunk 2 made a bee line for the guy hunk1/twat1 was talking about. The other guy totally freaked out and scurried off to the back of bar somewhere...)
  • Parts of this conversation has had creative license added to fill in the gaps...but I am sure you get the message......
When another friend posted this on his facebook wall, it engendered quite a bit of heated debate, with someone saying that this was quite offensive to all those who had contracted HIV through no fault of their own, whether it be because of a blood transfusion, or they had been raped, or because someone they trusted was lying to them. But these are not the people we are talking about. We are talking about those who do not take resposnibilty for their own actions. Those who indulge in reckless behaviour and look around for someone else to blame when they suffer the consequences.

I sometimes think the fact that I am still HIV negative is more down to luck than judgement. I was sexually active before we even knew what HIV was, at a time when condoms were only for preventing pregnancy, and therefore not necessary for me. Having survived that, I took on the safe sex message, and started to use condoms. I don’t like them. Still don’t, but they became a necessary evil. Some time later, I started taking a few risks, caclculated risks (in other words we discussed the matter before having sex), but risks none the less. Maybe if I hadn’t been doing drugs I wouldn’t have taken those risks. Who knows? I’m not blaming the drugs though. It was still my decision. I then went into a relationship with someone who was positive. I was always the active partner and we never used condoms. It didn’t bother me. I was in love. I honestly remember thinking that if I got it, it would make life easier for me. It may not have bothered me, but it did begin to bother him. I realise now that my actions were quite selfish. When we split up (for a multitude of reasons, not just the HIV issue), I waited 3 months and then got tested. Miraculously I was still negative. I had had no contact with my boyfriend since we split up but I rang him to tell him and he said it was the best news he’d heard in ages. However, if I had tested positive, I would not have called him. I would not have wanted him to think he’d given me HIV. Because actually he wouldn’t have done. I’d have given it to myself. I knew full well what I was doing and I would accept the responsibility. 

Given that we should all accept responsibilty for our own actions (quite a new concept for a lot of gay men), I accept that we also need greater openness surrounding the issue of sex itself. If HIV is still stigmatised, it is because it is, for the most part, a sexually transmitted disease. While there is still shame attached to sex, while religious groups still bang on about sex being a sin, we will never come to a stage where people can be open about their sex lives. Going for a sexual health check should be no different from going to the dentist for a check up, but you just have to look around the faces of the people in the waiting room to see that nobody wants to be seen there. In the case above, both guys made assumptions about the other one without actually confirming those assumptions. We were given the gift of communication. We should use it.

On a slightly differnt point I remember meeting some years ago another young escort on a job. He invited me to fuck him raw, but I declined. Later we, that is the client who had booked us, the young escort and I, all went to a sex party. Condoms were available but I was shocked to note that my young colleague never asked anyone to use one, though he was fucked by most of the guys at the party. In the taxi home, I said that I assumed he must be positive. He just shrugged and said, “Well not yet anyway.” I was practically speechless. “But don’t you worry about the consequences?” “It’s not a death sentence anymore. If I get it, I’ll just take a pill. It’s no big deal.” “Tell that to some of my positive friends,” I said, but I obviously wasn’t getting through.

Funding for HIV prevention has been slashed recently, whilst the bill for HIV treatment is rising dramatically every year. Think on. 

With thanks to Brent Nicholls http://brentnicholls.tumblr.com/

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tantra


erent meaning, 
Sorry if I've been a little quite recently, but I've been rather busy learning to become a tantric masseur.

So what is tantra and why was I drawn to it? To quote from the tantra4gaymen website
 
Tantra is the ultimate fusion of your sexual energy and your spirituality. These create states of bliss and ecstasy and in Buddhist and Hindu traditions are a path to your enlightenment.  Tantra delinates a multitude of esoteric beliefs and practices within hinduism and buddhism which have a long standing tradition reaching back to at least the 8th century. In its original meaning, Tantra is a mystical pathway, an accumulation of practices that have in common extensive use of ritual and of psycho-experiential techniques such as yoga, visualisation, and meditation.
In its modern form, Tantra has a slightly different meaning, referring to both new age and modern western interpretations of traditional Tantra, brought forward by pioneers of the so-called Neo-tantra since the 1970s. These teachings consider sex as a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane. They all show how sexual energy can be transformed into ecstatic experiences. To reach this aim, they offer a wide range of techniques, containing elements originating from fields such as bodywork, breath work, yoga, and meditation.

For years religions have taught us that sex is shameful, that we should be ashamed of our naked bodies, and, even for those of us who no longer practice any religion, these feelings of shame can be deep seated and so entrenched that we find it hard to simply relax and enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures. This is harder still for gay men, who have probably had ingrained in them from an early age the fact that sex between two men is wrong and sinful. We often react by indulging in a series of casual encounters, hurried and furtive, and ultimately unsatisfactory. Indeed, in my work as an escort, I have come across any number of men who, once they have ejaculated, can’t get away quick enough, their shame suddenly taking over from their transient pleasure. They leave vowing that they will never have sex with a man again, but they are back a week or so later and the pattern is repeated. 

Jason, the lead tantra teacher of tantra4gaymen is passionate in his quest to help men understand that they are ok as they are, that they deserve love,  deserve to be sexual and spiritual beings without repression. I too would like to carry on this work. Even in my escort work, I have always tried to provide a space where my clients can relax and enjoy the sexual experience or play out some of their fantasies without judgement or recrimination. 

A couple of weeks ago I spent a couple of days filming some instructional clips for Jason’s website, which will be live on the site some time at the beginning of December. These are not cold “how to” clips, but sensual and sensuous in their own right. We hope that you will be turned on as well as informed, and that you will be inspired to try out some of these techniques yourself. I hope it doesn’t sound too new age when I say it was two days spent in a warm and loving environment, models and crew feeling entirely comfortable with one another, and I think that we may have created something rather special.

I have also been working with Seb Cox, a big loveable bear of a man, who has a slightly different approach (tantra is not an exact science after all), but he too seeks to give men the opportunity to reclaim and reawaken the spiritual dimension of their sexuality. In all his workshops, what Seb reinforces continually is that we have magic in our fingertips, how touch can transform us. He has a wonderful ability to create a safe space where men can just relax, where judgement is set aside, where one can be at peace with one’s fellow men, a space where nothing is expected of you other than to enjoy the experience. I have experienced firsthand the joy of seeing a group of rather timid and tensely nervous men  transformed into a group that is open, relaxed and loving. 

In a world where everything has become rushed, including sex (such iPhone apps as Grindr surely emphasise the need for the quick fix), don’t we owe it to ourselves to take a little time out of our week to allow ourselves to feel really good? 

Here are some useful links 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Only Connect


A few nights ago, one of my regular clients booked me for an overnight. Usually we see each other for an hour once or twice a week. Very little of the time is spent talking, so consequently I knew very little about his private life. An overnight gave us the chance to get to know one another rather better, and I learned a good deal more about him. Of course I am not going to divulge any of the details he gave me of his private life, but what surprised me was how unbelievably complicated it is; to my mind unnecessarily so. It got me thinking about why or how people allow their lives to become so muddled.
The muddle my client found himself in started almost 30 years ago, it would seem. I have no doubt, that when the situation started, my client, still a young man, got drawn in by the thrill of concealment, lying to hide his tracks, and enjoying the subterfuge. Anyone who has ever had an affair will know that there is something intensely exciting about those first weeks or months of an illicit union, but that novelty soon wears off and pretty soon you are lying not only to protect yourself but to avoid hurting those you love, and eventually you are left with a muddle that satisfies absolutely nobody. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to extricate yourself from the situation, but there are times when the truth comes out and, what seems like an impossible situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. We second guess people’s reactions, and find that actually we underestimated them. Having one’s worst fears realised is not as bad as we thought it was going to be. I sincerely hope that my client manages to sort out his present predicament, as it seems likely that the truth will have to come out one way or another.

I was reminded that muddle, or rather a dislike of it, is a pervading theme of the novels of E.M. Forster, whom I studied years ago when doing my degree. In almost every one of his novels, the characters become embroiled in muddle and mess, until the strands are unravelled and some sort of harmony is achieved. The wonderfully satisfactory and harmonious conclusion to Howard’s End only comes about after a series of cover ups and muddles. The plot involves three families from completely different backgrounds (class is also a pervading theme of Forster’s novels), who become inextricably linked. At the beginning the Wilcoxes hide from the Schlegel sisters a letter from the dying Mrs Wilcox leaving the house Howard’s End to Margaret Schlegel. However after a series of misunderstandings, muddles and messes, Margaret does indeed end up living in the house. The motto of the book is Only Connect.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

How wise. If we can only connect the disparate elements of our lives, then our lives will be the simpler. I once thought it necessary to keep separate the various strands of my own life, but now see that they are all connected. Experience in one area often heightens our experience in another.

Most muddles stem from the fact that we are hiding something from someone. The bigger the muddle, the more we are hiding from different people. I don’t like muddle. I like my life to be simple. Consequently I prefer not to hide things. I am totally open about who I am and what I do. If people don’t like it, then that is their problem, not mine. I remember this being my attitude very early on. Once at a party, someone sidled up to me and said, with a knowing look, “I know you. I’ve seen your photo.” The statement had a definite ring of “I’ve found you out.” My response caught him off guard though. “Oh right. Would you like to know my rates? I think I have an opening later this evening, if you’d like to make a booking.” Blushing like mad, he slithered away muttering something unintelligible. No doubt this guy was hoping his approach would cover me in confusion, but he could not hurt me. It has taken me some time to appreciate this, but by owning what I do and who I am, I keep my life simple and avoid as much as possible muddle and mess. Only connect seems a very good motto to me.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Gods and Monsters


A short piece this week about last Saturday’s Wig Party 2011, in aid of the National Aids Trust. The Wig Party started over 15 years ago as a private house party, and has just got bigger and bigger, which this year necessitated the move from the glamorous CafĂ© De Paris to the new, and equally glamorous One Mayfair. Believe it or not, this was actually my first Wig Party, and I didn’t finally make a decision to go until a couple of days beforehand, thereby throwing myself into a mild panic about getting a costume together. Fortunately one of my best friends is the amazingly gifted and creative sculptor, Steve Yeates, and he came up with a brilliant idea for my costume. I’d already considered going as the Minotaur, but Steve had me hooked from the moment he suggested I go as a golden Minotaur. The body was easy enough – a few tiny bits of leather and copious amounts of gold body paint – but the headdress was going to be more of a problem, or so I thought. I hadn’t counted on Steve’s incredible creativity. He tried to explain what he had in mind, something involving a BMX helmet, some copper piping and bubble wrap. No, I wasn’t convinced either, but I tried to look appreciative, whilst inwardly fearing the worst. I should have had more faith. With the addition of a metal cut out bull’s nose, with a ring through it and a blonde wig cascading hair down the back, the headdress looked amazing.
With Steve as Hades

Steve had elected to go as Hades, and had fashioned himself a headdress of hair made from cling film, with lights inside, which lit up, giving the impression that his hair was on fire. His outfit was completed with a small stuffed dog puppy, with two heads. I suppose it wasn’t surprising that we turned a few heads as we walked from the car to the venue. Mercifully, considering I was practically naked, it was a very warm night.

Winner of the Individual prize
Once inside, we were greeted by a smorgasbord of colour and inventiveness. Almost everyone, it appeared, had gone to a great deal of trouble to deck themselves out in costumes of eye popping fabulousness. The catwalk parade went on for hours, as we all vied for the prize of best group and best individual. I didn’t make it to the final 12, though many said I should have done. No matter, the deserved winner of the individual prize went to a guy who put on a wonderfully entertaining show as a mermaid.

All in all a great, fun night. Roll on the next one.


With gorgeous Nicolle as Medusa
Cheeky 


Sunday, 25 September 2011

Even I Can Be Surprised (old journal entry from my site)

This is an entry from my journal on my website, written before I started my blog, but I thought it was of sufficient interest to post it again here. Hope you enjoy.
  
Today I saw a young man, attractive in a preppy sort of way, who told me he wanted me to take control - something I'm pretty used to doing. He arrived at my flat and wanted to take a shower immediately. Emerging from the shower, he had a nice, trim little body and a whopping cock, that hardened as soon as I took the towel off him. Standing naked in front of me he told me that he had never been fucked before, but he wanted to go "all the way" for the first time. Now you might think that I'd love to take someone's cherry, but I'd far rather someone with a bit of experience normally. Still, there was obviously some deep interior life to this normal preppy looking boy. I could tell by the way he gasped at my touch, and at the way he caressed my muscles as he undressed me. I ordered him to get on his knees and suck my cock, which he did quite readily, though with little obvious experience, and I had to guide him a little. Maybe he was having trouble with my PA. Eventually I turned him round and told him to bend over, while I rimmed his cute little butt. He was squirming with delight and I must say I found his hole much more welcoming than anyone would expect for a virgin. Once I thought he was ready, I lubed him up, told him to put his hands on the sofa, rolled on a condom and started to enter him. He had absolutely no difficulty taking my cock till the whole thing was deep inside him, and he was obviously loving every minute of it. We moved into the bedroom and I fucked him again, this time on his back. He pulled his legs ever closer to his chest so that he could get more and more of my cock inside him. his own cock getting harder by the second. I pulled out and started fingering him - one, two three and then four fingers. It's a long time since I've come across someone who opened up so easily. We tried the anal balls, but when I tried fucking him with 2 of the balls inside him, it was possibly overkill. He decided he needed a toilet brake - well, for a first timer he'd done pretty well, I had to admit.

He came back to the bedroom and lay down again. Deciding that fucking might be out of the question, I started to wank that lovely cock of his and inserted a finger into his butt, locating his prostate and massaging it until he came, loads of the stuff spurting out all over the two of us.

Afterwards he lay there trying to get back to reality. "That was really intense," he breathed. I asked him if it was really the first time he had been fucked. "Well, I've tried fucking myself, but that's the first time anyone else has." "You're an extremely talented boy then," I said.

He went for another shower and while he dressed I told him I thought he had great possibilities - restraints, blindfold etc, and that I had no doubt that soon he would be being fisted. "You took four fingers," I said. A look of total surprise on his face, he looked at my hands. "You have really big hands." "Quite." He just gave me a little smile and handed me my fee. I do love my job sometimes.

Friday, 23 September 2011

What's in a word?


A couple of days ago, I was in the gym, not that there is anything unusual about that, of course. Like most gyms, mine has a bank of TV screens just above the cardio machines, showing various different channels, so you can have something to take your mind off the boring drudge of doing cardio. My eye was drawn to a debate on BBC News about the government’s new plan to allow full legal marriage for same sex couples, a move fully supported, incidentally, by our Prime Minister David Cameron. (Not normally a fan of Dave, I have to admit that occasionally he does get something right.) I couldn’t actually hear the debate, as I was listening to my own music, so was following by just reading the subtitles. A plump, ever so wholesome middle aged woman was saying that it was wrong to use the word marriage for same sex unions as the dictionary clearly stated that marriage described the union between a man and a woman. Further investigation proved that not to be quite true, but, for the moment, let’s assume that what this woman is saying is correct, and that marriage can only refer to that between two people of the opposite sex. Smiling sweetly, she then went on to say that she had nothing against people of the same sex wishing to legitimise their union, but that they already had their own word for that, which is civil partnership. Leaving aside for the moment the question of semantics, it was none the less obvious to me that she viewed marriage as somehow having more validity than civil partnerships, her inference being therefore that heterosexual relationships have more validity than homosexual ones. Clearly then this is a case where the word we use does actually matter. As a single man, I used to think that the whole gay marriage/civil partnership debate had very little relevance to me, but now I see that it has very great relevance for us all. Suddenly the word marriage puts us on a level footing with our straight bothers and sisters. Words can be very powerful.

When I got home, I decided to look up the true meaning of the word marriage.  The OED of 1898 defines it thus

  1. a. The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between married persons; spousehood, wedlock.

Notice that even in 1898 there is no prescription that the marriage pairing is only husband and wife.

In the latest edition of the OED, the definition has changed slightly.
1.      a. The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other; matrimony.
The term is now sometimes used with reference to long-term relationships between partners of the same sex.

The same edition also contains a definition of a gay marriage.
gay marriage n. a relationship or bond between partners of the same sex which is likened to that between a married man and woman; (in later use chiefly) a formal marriage bond contracted between two people of the same sex, often conferring legal rights; (also) the action of entering into such a relationship; the condition of marriage between partners of the same sex.

Quite aside from being wrong in her definition of marriage, this woman seemed intent on denying us the same rights that she, and all heterosexuals take for granted.

Words are important. How important they are was brought home to me by a piece of news that was brought to my attention, courtesy of Pink News. Jamie Rodemeyer was a 14 year old boy, studying at Williamsville North high School in Buffalo, New York. He was gay, and to all intents and purposes was managing to deal with the bullying and taunts he suffered at his school. He even made an “It Gets Better” video for youtube. Sadly for Jamie, things didn’t get better. The bullying got worse, and finally, unable to take it any longer, he took his own life. How can we hope to stop this bullying when politicians and church leaders constantly indulge in out and out homophobia themselves? The woman on BBC News was indulging her own homophobia, albeit subtly, when she wrongly defined the word marriage as being between a man and a woman. A recent report indicates that over 50% of the British public opposes gay marriage, indicating that society still, at best, tolerates rather than accepts us. I have no doubt that many of those polled are not religious, but religious bigotry somehow seeps down and into society, and colours the way people think whether they go to church or not, and it affects the way our children think and behave.
So, I ask again, what’s in a word? Rather a lot, I would say. Let us hope that, despite the findings of this recent government report, David Cameron can win the debate on same sex marriage, and the law will be changed during the lifespan of this parliament, as he would like.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Love and Acceptance


I spent last weekend with my best friend, actually my twin sister, at his hometown of Caen in Normandy. Quite aside from the warm welcome I received, from the difficulty I had remembering my French, which I hadn’t spoken in 30years, from the vast quantities of food consumed (we’ve both come back fat as pigs), what struck me most was the love, acceptance and openness shown by all those I met.

With my "twin sister" Billy
Billy did not have an easy childhood or adolescence. Thrown out of the family home at the age of 15, when he came out to his alcoholic father, who died last year, he fled to Paris, New York, Brighton and London, doing whatever he could to survive, eventually turning to drugs and alcohol himself. However, even at the height of his addiction, he had a keen instinct for survival, which led him to check himself into the Priory, taking the first steps on the road to a recovery, which continues to this day. He has been clean 9 years, though this does not stop him going out and enjoying himself at parties where those around him are drinking or taking drugs. His problem has never become anyone else’s. A few years back he was diagnosed HIV positive, which he dealt with with equal courage and fortitude. With all these problems he has also managed to own and run successful businesses. He is a remarkable person.

I tell you this because Billy is very open about the details of his life. Everyone we met in France, from his relations to his school friends knows everything about him, but it has made no difference to them. It was wonderful to see how he was welcomed with total love and acceptance by all the people we visited, and there were an awful lot of them. (I was getting quite lost as to who was who by the end of Saturday). Inevitably I suppose, I began to compare his life to mine. I had a fairly trouble free childhood, though my adolescence was harder as I tried desperately to be the person my mother wanted me to be, rather than the person I am. I knew I was gay, but I hid it from myself as well as everyone else for such a long time, that when I finally accepted I was gay, it was something of an epiphany. I came out to all my friends down here in London, then to my brother, and finally to my mother. She reacted as only she could. She still loved me of course, but that was despite the fact that I was gay, which was just another cross for her to bear. She would of course keep it to herself, as there was so much shame attached to having a gay son. To this day she has never told the rest of the family, not even her own brothers, to whom she claimed to be so close. So much for openness and acceptance. Is it any wonder my visits to my hometown became more and more infrequent. Unlike Billy, I never really felt I fitted in with anyone at school, so I have no contact with any of my childhood friends, many of whom have moved away from the area anyway. It was only when I moved to London and went to Drama College that I felt I fitted in anywhere.  

The main reason for us going to France at the weekend was to attend the 40th birthday party of one of Billy’s friends, whom I had met, with his charming wife and lovely young daughter when they were here in London for New Year. The guests (at least 60 of them) ranged in age from young children to grandparents . Apart from Billy and me, there was one gay couple there. Everyone else was straight, though we fitted in so wel it really was of no consequence who was straight and who was gay. A few spoke English. Most didn’t, though I still managed to hold quite a few conversations with people. The party started at 8pm with punch and nibbles, but tables had been set for a sit down meal, which Christophe, our host had prepared himself. He had always been adamant that on his birthday he would cook for his friends. In the event, we didn’t sit down to eat till 10pm and dessert didn’t arrive till 2am! The courses were interspersed with dancing and even a flash mob, with which I joined in, having been taught the routine the previous evening. Billy’s sister had written new lyrics to a well known French song, detailing events in Christophe’s life, which she performed with her husband and another couple of close friends, and so on and so forth. Billy acquainted people with what I do for a living, explaining the difference between us. “I’m a slut and he’s a whore, because he gets paid and I give it away free”. Not really true these days. Billy’s more of a nun, which seems a terrible waste to me. But I digress. Nobody made judgements. I was welcomed with acceptance and open arms. I suppose what I am saying is that it was a joy to be accepted for who I am, rather than despite who I am, which is usually the case when I go to my hometown. When we left the party, exhausted, at 3am, it was still in full swing, children still playing, people still sitting round chatting or dancing. I had more fun than I’ve had in a gay club in London in a very long time.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world could be like that? If we could all be accepted for who we are? Too often, like most minorities, we are tolerated rather than accepted, if we are tolerated at all. Why do so many people find it hard to accept other people’s differences? Difference is what makes the world go round. It should be celebrated, as indeed it was on Saturday night.