Sunday 30 May 2010

I don't wanna holiday in the sun

I've began thinking about something I haven't done in quite a while, and that's taking a holiday. Going off somewhere for a couple of days to...well, I dunno really. Check things out. Soak up a different atmosphere. Be somewhere else. For a long time I've held off on this idea on the grounds that, wherever I go, I'll still be me. I'll still be alone and I'll still be a miserable git. But, there again, it occurs to me that there might at least be some sense of variety in being a miserable git in, say, Edinburgh or Manchester, rather than Newcastle. If nothing else I'll get the chance to feel lonely in different cafes and pubs.

Where to go, though? This is the question. It's probably best not to go somewhere I've been with my ex-wife recently: that leaves out London and York, say...and especially Paris, where we spent a truly wonderful holiday. Ditto Liverpool, though our visit there - a one-night stay for a gig I did at the City Library - can't really be called a holiday. All the places we went to for NASUWT conferences: Brighton, Birmingham and Bournemouth, are out too.

Trying to think of other places to go makes me realise that, of the many places in Britain I have been to without Michelle, many of them I haven't been to in years. Manchester I haven't been to since 2000. Edinburgh I haven't been to since 2003. Leeds I visited once, for a gig, in 2004, but haven't since. That's six years at the least - those places have probably changed immeasurably in that time. Is Affleck's Palace still there? Does Edinburgh still only have four fucking taxi ranks in the entire city? Does Leeds, while pleasant enough by day, still transform into a city-sized recreation of Newcastle's infamous Bigg Market come the night-time? Who knows?

And this is leaving out everywhere in Britain I haven't been. I've never been to Cornwall - though that's probably too far away for a weekend. I haven't been to Carlisle either, though. I haven friends who go to the Lakes on a regular basis, but I myself haven't been there since 1994, for Coleridge's sake. Speaking of literary locations, I haven't even been to Hull. Surely I should go there at least once, to see if it really is that bad?

Maybe big cities aren't the way to go. The way the holiday situation is set-up in my current workplace, all the summer weeks have been booked by the people with kids, to coincide with the school holidays. So I'm going to have to just skoosh off somewhere for a weekend. And, on weekends, most UK cities tend to be filled with heid-the-balls looking for a fuck or a fight, and I have no intention of providing them with either. Maybe I should go somewhere rural. Stay in a B&B (assuming, pace Chris Grayling, that one will have me) in some quiet little village, potter about, visit an old church and the local second-hand bookshop, watch the ducks on the pond...then go completely bugfuck around about four on the Saturday afternoon and slaughter the entire population. No, rural life is not entirely suited to me either. I need a lot of stimulation.

Added to all this is my hatred of the pointless, the random, the unscheduled. If I'm going to go somewhere, I like to be doing something, even if it's just visiting a friend. I like a trip to have a sense of mission, a purpose. This is why I like travelling to gigs so much: you get to go somewhere and do something, then you can knock off and relax. But going somewhere to relax seems kind of odd.

Relax I must though, I think. It's been a hard time lately, what with the demise of the bookshop, a month of unemployment (which, even for someone as well-supported as I, is not the cushy number Ian Duncan Smug seems to think it is), followed by settling into a new job and then being blindsided by the news of Michelle's breast cancer...It would be nice to come into work on Friday with a backpack of travelling gear, clock off at five, take a train somewhere, stow my goods in a hotel, then be somewhere different for Saturday, and have a late return home on sunday evening. Get away from it all, or at least as much as I can, for two nights at least.

But still I find myself thinking...where?

Tuesday 25 May 2010

I was feelin' kinda seasick...The crowd called out for more...

Kind of low on spoons at the moment, so probably won't be writing any long blog posts for a while.

I will be performing one of my recent poems, Rainy Breaktime, at the Newcastle INK Festival at The Cluny in Ouseburn. My major focus in life at the moment is the cobbling together of a gnarly outfit for the performance. Make-up and arm-warmers will probably feature, as will my awesome pink pointy Cyberdog flip-flops, which, it now officially being summer, I am rotating back into the wardrobe. Oh yes.

But anyway! Here are some links!

Penny Red on the vilest irony of, oh, the last week: Brian Haw being evicted from Parliament Square on spurious grounds while ErMadgesty tells us all about Nick an' Dave's big plan to make us all free.

Helen from Bird of Paradox on the couple on trial in Malawi.

Annie Lennox singing the song my head felt like when I started writing this post.

And, to cheer you up after all that misery...LAMP! I love lamp!

Tuesday 18 May 2010

A little bit of politics

Yesterday was an interesting, and perhaps a little dispiriting, day, politically. We had the decision from a high court judge to ban BA strikers from exercising their democratic right to withdraw their labour (TRIGGER WARNING: about halfway down that site there's a picture of Willie Walsh's pug-ugly face); more worryingly still, there was the bitter irony that, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, when even police stations flew the rainbow banner, we had to put up with an administration that sees nothing wrong with employing someone as bigoted as Theresa May as Equalities Minister, no less, and appointing Philippa Stroud,  sometime nemesis of this blog and, you will recall, a woman who, in the year 2010, still believes in demonic possession, as an advisor. To reiterate: we now live under a government happy to take advice from someone who believes that evil wee beasties crawl into people and make them do naughty things because the divil tells 'em to, (Mrs Stroud has yet to comment on how these beasties gain entrance to people, but this writer reckons it must be through the arse).

A lot has been written about how the Tories are repealing some of the more repressive measures introduced by Labour during the suck-up-to-Bush era (and let's be honest, a lot of the Cleggeron's repeals are made much easier by the fact that the US has a much more liberal Commander-in-Chief now, so illiberal measures can be scrapped safe in the knowledge that it won't damage the Special Relationship), but I have to admit it: I'm afraid. I think it's a trick, a ruse. I worry that in maybe a few years, tops, if this government is still in power, we'll see their true colours. We'll see them try to rein in all the great social changes of the last thirteen years as they shamelessly court the Daily Mail tendency. They'll try to reintroduce Section 28, make it harder for gay couples to have kids, eliminate protections for trans people and, oh yeah, all that stuff about 'efficiency savings' in the NHS? Three guesses where that axe is gonna fall...

But then I read something like what Penny Red wrote the other day, and I think: FUCKING YESSSS. Cameron hasn't won the election, and if he and his trolls pick a fight with everyone who's danced out of the closet since Thatcher and her ilk were given the boot - indeed, with all the people who fought to smash down the closet door during Thatcher's reign - he won't, and can't win. Because all the LGBT people who can live more openly since Tony Blair came into power won't be shoved back into the darkness, and the vast, progressive majority of people in this country who aren't gay, bi, lesbian or trans, but maybe have friends or relatives who are, or who just notice how much nicer the country seems now we aren't, Jan Moir aside, picking on minorities so openly and viciously anymore, won't stand for it either.

So, as worrying as it is to witness days like yesterday, and the fears they bring: let them bloody try. Because we'll try harder, and we'll stop them. And in that spirit, here's a poem I posted on Write Out Loud yesterday in an attempt to deal with these concerns. Remember, folks: we fight 'em 'til we can't.

Friday 14 May 2010

In what is perhaps my finest hour, I hate on a paralyzed man

I was for a couple of years a very good fan of the moderate left-wing historian Tony Judt. His collection of essays, Reappraisals, came along just at the time that I developed a serious essay-fetish. Better still, unlike the other major essayist I got into, Clive 'never knowingly unannoying' James, he followed a broadly social-democratic line and wasn't given to (a) showing off his multilingualism in an extremely de haut en bas fashion, (b) going on and on about the bloody tango, or (c)breaking off in the middle of an otherwise decent article to go off on another rant about how Marxism was inevitably doomed and Margaret Thatcher is a modern-day Joan of Arc. I would keep an eye out for anything in a magazine at the bookshop that contained one of Judt's pieces, and was particularly pleased, in a bittersweet sort of a way, when the New York Review began publishing a regular series of memoirs by Judt, reflecting on his long career in the humanities.

It was bittersweet because in the first of these articles, Night, Judt wrote, heartbreakingly, about the motor neurone disease that had left him bedridden and with no other intellectual stimulation than to make voyages into his own remembered past. Night was one of those things that you read which, when you finish it, mean you have to walk around the house for a bit (if you're lucky enough to be able to), not exactly thinking and not exactly upset and not exactly angry but sort of stressed and restless, battling a vague sense of the unfairness of the universe.

So when, last week, I was browsing the magazine stand in Fenwicks during a rare day to myself during the recent worry of Michelle's breast cancer, and I saw a copy of the New York Review with Judt's byline on the cover, I picked it up immediately.

I'm a busy person, especially so of late, so I didn't get around to reading Judt's article until today. And I kind of wish I hadn't, because if I'd never read it I could have carried on thinking of Judt as an essentially noble, freethinking genius, tragically struck down by a cruel degenerative disease in the twilight of his years. Instead of, as it turns out, an insufferable, arrogant prick who embodies everything distasteful about male and cis privilege (because of which, a trigger warning is in effect for the next link if you, like me, find those things distressing).

Tony has been thinking about girls while he's in bed, you see. He's been thinking in particular about how feminism and what he calls 'sexual correctness' ruined things for crazy, fun-loving '60s types' like himself. 'History,' Judt writes, sounding like no-one so much as dandified right-wing rent-a-gob David Starkey, 'was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination - or worse.' Clearly, this 'rabble of womankind' caused Judt some bother. 'Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.'

So basically, Judt was upset that he couldn't (a) touch his female students up and (b) couldn't have the door to his office closed when one of them was in there with him. Oh, the humanity! It's poliddikul corregdness gawn maaaaaaahhhhhhd, that's what it is. Except it's fucking not. These are students we're talking about: why would he need to physically touch them? I don't recall any of my lecturers having to personhandle me during my student days (as much as I may have wanted some of them to), and as for the closed door, well, so what? So he had to leave his door open, it's NYU, not the school in Dangerous Minds. I'm pretty sure he wasn't bothered by many kids staging impromptu breakdance contests outside of his study.

Fantastically it gets better, as Judt rapidly transmogrifies into a modern-day Humbert Humbert and tells us about his own dinner dates with an attractive young student (don't worry ladies; we're given to understand Judt only loves her for her mind, and if you believe that I have a face-cream enriched with pro-retinol to sell you), and whines about how it's such a shame that 'Americans assiduously avoid anything that might smack of harassment, even at the risk of forgoing promising friendships and the joys of flirtation.'

Bitch, please. First of all, if you can't flirt without inviting accusations of sexual harassment, you are no fucking good at flirting and would be advised to give it the fuck up. Secondly, sorry chum, but I have lots of female friends and at no point have I thought, shit, I better stop being friends with these girls in case I leave myself open to a charge of sexual harassment because, guess the fuck what, I'm not a total fucking prick.

But then Judt really goes all-in when he cries havoc and unleashes the dogs of victim-blaming and cisfail. First of all, he introduces us to the case of 'a promising young professor' who 'was accused of improper advances by a graduate student in his department.' Judt takes at face value the confession from his golden boy that he 'followed her into a supply closet and declared his feelings.' Judt then says there was 'no question of intimidation', apparently not being smart enough, despite his Cambridge education, to grasp the fact that a woman might feel somewhat threatened when followed into a confined space by a man who then confesses his sexual desire for her. Fortunately, female students at Judt's school weren't quite so unwise in the ways of the world - they refused to take his classes, which eventually led to Judt's acolyte being denied tenure. Judt, predictably, is full of sorrow for the privileged professor - 'his career was ruined' - and full of bile for the woman he picked on: 'Meanwhile, his "victim" was offered the usual counseling (sic).' You stay classy there, Mr Judt.

Fortunately, the honourable Judt got his revenge, and he wastes no time in telling us, gloatingly, about how he did so:

'Some years later, I was called to the Office of the University Lawyer. Would I serve as a witness for the defense in a case against NYU being brought by that same young woman? Note, the lawyer warned me: "she" is really a "he" and is suing the university for failing to take seriously "her" needs as a transvestite. We shall fight the case but must not be thought insensitive.'

Oh, how very fucking big of you, Mr Judt! Words fail me here but, let's face it, they fail Judt too...the humanities scholar is unable to tell the difference between a trans woman and a 'transvestite', and can't resist those Bindel-like scare quotes around all the pronouns in his paragraph. Unfortunately his linguistic gifts didn't desert him in the courtroom. He can barely conceal his grin when telling us of his cute turn of phrase when asked 'were you not prejudiced against my client because of her transgendered identity preference?' (which phrase itself reads to me like Judt's mind playing Proustian perceptual tricks on him - 'identity preference' is the way someone like Judt would categorise gender identity as a matter of choice). What did Judt say on the stand? 'I don't see how I could have been...I thought she was a woman - isn't that what she wanted me to think?'

I can just picture Judt smirking, sneering, as he sits in a courtroom and trots out this wheedling little sophistry. Needless to say, in a court of the privileged, the university won the case - but Judt says it anyway, because he wants to underline how he - backed with nothing more than the entire financial and legal might of a prestigious university - managed to beat down a sneaky little trans woman.

There's a lot more in Judt's article - he has the front, in trying to justify his behaviour, to make a ridiculous case that demanding safety and respect for women - trans or cis - is apparently on the same moral level as 'Bill Clinton's self-destructive transgressions or Tony Blair's insistence that he was right to lie his way into a war' - but it's Friday night and I don't want to spend the rest of my evening fighting back an urge to vomit. Here's the bottom line:

Tony Judt makes excuses for a man who sexually harrassed a trans woman. He blames the victim of this harassment for what the harasser did. He then defended the university when this woman was brave enough to take them to court for mistreating her. Tony Judt, a man who in his career has written much about the injustice of oppression, sees nothing wrong at all with what he did.

From where I'm sitting, it looks nothing but wrong. It looks like another old cis white guy picking on those who lack his privilege to make himself feel better about his own peccadiloes. It looks like the old boys club getting together to cover up their crimes and keep the girls out of the clubhouse unless they're being wheeled in in cakes. It looks shameful, and pathetic, and sad.

I liked Tony Judt's books because I thought he was a historian who believed in justice. But it turns out he isn't. He's just another in a long line of privileged bastards who make the world worse.

Tonight, I go to sleep, knowing I've lost a hero. Tony Judt tries to sleep, knowing pain and discomfort, but knowing also that his discomfort is relative: he has nurses, a restful bed, and constant supervision. But tonight many trans women go to sleep knowing they're left out - not just of Judt's privileged little boys' club but also the world of employment, of housing, of the privileges of normal life which only seem 'normal' to those who never realise what a privilege they are.

High rates of homelessness. High rates of unemployment. High rates of harassment and discrimination. A shockingly high chance of being murdered. Tony Judt has done his bit to keep those statistics high. And, if he wasn't sick, he'd have no problem sleeping.

Tuesday 11 May 2010


I've given it a good hour and the rage has yet to subside. They did it. The Lib Dems have sold out to the Tories, and now we have to look forward to David Cameron as Chief Shitbag for...well, realistically another six months. But six minutes with that prick in charge is too fucking long.

There are crumbs of comfort. Stroud didn't get in; but the Darth Sidious to her pious little Anakin, Iain Duncan Smith, will get a place in the Cabinet, it seems. As will Michael Howard, architect of the fascist Criminal Justice Act and a vile piece of political scum I will hate with every fibre of my being until the day I die or he does. And William 'One Shandy' Hague, the bumptious, cringeworthy overgrown child. Scum. Beasts. Monsters. Bastards, every last filth-sucking one of them.

A bigger crumb is that the North pretty much categorically rejected the Tories, with the exception of a weird enclave in Carlisle who must surely, even now, be looking around them like those truck drivers who stopped during the LA Riots and thinking shitshitshitshit... Well done, the North. Especially Tynemouth. If there was one place I thought would go Tory, it was you. But you didn't. You kept the faith. Well done. I rag on the North East harder than pretty much anyone writing up here (and don't think I'm going to let up out of solidarity during the Cameron junta - if you bastards fuck up I will still call you on it), but it's only because I fucking love the place, and one of the things that makes me love it is that, despite all the propaganda in the Mail and the Sun, the people up here still have the good goddam sense to stick two fingers up to the Tories, and, while they're at it, to tell the BNP to fuck right off as well. Hats off to the Geordies - they are black and white, but they don't fight, except after ten pints on a Saturday night...*and while we're at it the Mackems, the Smoggies, the Monkey-hangers, Sand-dancers and everyone else. We'll keep the Red Flag flying here if we have to impale the fucking Tories on it.

And the biggest crumb is that with the Lib Dems surely not all intent on falling into line behind Clegg, and a tiny majority otherwise, and the Tory backbenches sure to rise up and fuck Cameron mightily where even Murdoch's Sun can't shine, and Europe looming to split the Tories as per, Cameron's leadership is going to be Hell for the Old Etonian scumbag. And that's before we even get to the fact that I and a lot of other people will be fighting him and his ilk every damn step of the way. He'll be out in six months and, far from being the 'heir to Blair' he'll be remembered as a worse PM than Major.

Welcome, David Cameron. Welcome to Hell. I only hope for your sake that it's a worse Hell for you than it is for the rest of us.

The rage continues.

* and caps doffed to Bill Bailey's 'Hats off to the Badgers' song, lovingly ripped off in the sentence preceding this footnote.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Call for Submissions

A while ago, I was toying with doing a poetry 'zine called Diseases of Staggering Beauty. I'd gotten tired of a poetry scene that seemed divided between 'respectable' little magazines that seemed mainly to publish poems by middle-class people about whichever former Eastern Bloc city they'd last gone on holiday to, and those newer poetry mags which seem to me to be the literary equivalent of landfill indie, slick production values and an edgy attitude which only emphasises the disconnect between the marketing campaign and the pallid reams of 'content' within. Diseases, I decided, would be neither respectable nor slick: it would concentrate on transgressive subject matter and it wouldn't give two shits whether it was 'cool' or not.

And then I forgot all about it.

To be fair, I had my reasons. The bookshop where I worked went bankrupt. I was unemployed for a month; I'd barely gotten settled into a new job when Michelle came down with breast cancer. Ironically, though, it was Michelle's being in hospital that gave me the impetus to crank Diseases up again.

One of the things that had led me to hold back with getting started on the 'zine was that, as much as I wanted it to be raw, I also wanted it to look nice. I decided I would need to learn how to do desktop publishing, design, all that sort of stuff. I wanted to make it look professional.

Then a friend of Michelle sent her a care package, which included some of her own 'zines, which were brilliant, and energetic, and simple, and elegant, and busy, and vibrant, and wonderful, and had been put together with no technology more sophisticated than scissors, glue, paper, and a photocopier. Why do them so simply? Why not make them slicker, nicer, more professional?

Because that's not the point. The point is saying something. The point is putting something out there, making your point, and not letting self-consciousness or diffidence get in your way. Really professional magazines look the way they do because they have art departments and big production budgets and enough staff to sort out a proper division of labour. If you have something you really want to say, if you have an idea you really want to put across, a point of view that you wish to advance, then worrying that you can't make what you want to produce as slick as, say, *wallpaper magazine is just going to prevent you actually saying what you want to say. At some point you have to, as they say, just do it.

All of which preamble is basically to say that I've decided to start Diseases of Staggering Beauty up again, and to ask for submissions from you, you beautiful people. What do I want? I want stuff that's angry, weird, out-of-place, questioning, questing and queer. I don't want the tweedy, well-meaning teacher or the strutting, testosterone-addled lead guitarist with the local rock legends, I want the angry kid with downcast eyes at the back of the class who sits there seething with a private rage to be something other than the options on the table. I want the kind of stuff I want to read, really, the stuff I don't see out there at the moment.

If you'd like to contribute something, I'd love to read it. It's mainly poetry I'm interested in but prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, that fits the bill will be considered as well. Art too, but be aware that production limitations will probably mean black and white, simple stuff will work best.

So: if you want to contribute, email your work to me at . All copyright remains with contributors; I can't afford to pay anyone but obviously you get the usual complementary copy (and probably a few more copies for distribution purposes into the bargain).

Sunday 2 May 2010

Attack of the Big-nosed Sex-Fascists

To paraphrase Neil Kinnock, if the Tories are elected, I warn you not to be gay, not to be lesbian, bi, or a trans person. I warn you not to be polyamorous. I warn you not be kinky. I warn you, in fact, not to be at all sex-positive in any way whatsoever. In fact, I strongly advise you not to be anything but a rosary-clutching Christian librarian who self-flagellates after wiping their bum because they've 'defiled' themselves.

Why am I in such a doom-saying mood? Because of a woman. This woman, in fact:

This woman, readers - though she may appear to be a cruel photoshop mock-up of Jennifer Aniston's hair and Ricky Hatton's nose - is in fact the very real Philippa Stroud, head of the Centre for Social Justice, the thinktank founded by Ian 'the quiet man is turning up the volume' Duncan Smith. These assclowns are the people who gave you the frankly pointless married person's tax credit - you know, the idea that battered women and closet-case husbands will immediately eschew the freedom of divorce when offered a measly £150 bribe. I can see that working. I can picture myself now, in an abusive relationship, flinching as my face is backhanded so hard my neck nearly snaps and punch after punch is driven into my stomach*, thinking to myself that if I just stand and take it I'll be sitting pretty on top of one-hundred-and-fifty extra pounds a year! Such wonder.

(Wheezes like this always strike me as weird coming from the right wing, as well. They constantly go on about how Labour has destroyed us all in the 'social experiment' of multiculturalism, but then what do they propose? A social experiment in seeing whether you can bribe people to stay married. Where's your faith in the free market, cretins? Well, alive and well if the client lists of London's top escort agencies are anything to go by, I reckon, but I digress...)

The fact is, though, we may all be looking back on the heady days of the marriage-bribe carrot as the golden age for our asses, because it seems the exorcism-stick is waiting 'round the corner. See, there's a lot more to Pippa Stroud than a good hairdresser, a set of Palin-lite policies, and a mediocre prizefighter's honker - she's also, according to reports in today's Observer, a crusader 'gainst the forces of Satan himself:

And it isn't just the homos. You won't be surprised to hear that Stroud's Terminators - er, I mean Ministers - also saw fit to try to pray the queer out of 'Abi, a teenage girl with transsexual issues'. Given the high rate of suicide among trans people, and the fact that many have severe problems with their self-esteem to begin with (this writer, for one, has been known to suffer severe ego-drops at the mere sight of hir five o-clock shadow), I have to question whether telling someone they're demonically posessed is the most useful form of intervention. Admittedly, someone telling the teenage me I was in league with Satan would have been greeted with a loud 'fuck YEAH!' and a \m/metal salute\m/, but there again I wasn't surrounded by evangelical Christians during my adolescence (I was instead surrounded by Catholics who, whatever the priesthood gets up to, tend to be more pragmatic about a teenage interest in the music of Guns 'n' Roses). 

Still, Abi's suicide probably wouldn't be any skin off Stroud's brobdingnagian bogey-chute, given that she shrugged off the death of an alcoholic resident in a hostel she ran by saying ' we wondered whether God knew that she hadn't the will to stick with it and was calling her home.' Imagine how you'd feel if some holier-than-thou prick said that about your daughter.

These people are not the aberrations in Cameron's 'New Conservatives'. They're the norm. The party that gave you Section 28 and Operation Spanner is still as bigoted, homophobic, and generally fucked-up about sex as ever, and anyone whose sexuality isn't exactly in accord with that of Philippa Stroud and her hateful ilk has a duty to vote on May 6th to stop them gaining power, and to keep her mammoth nose out of our business**.

* Admittedly I would be more likely to pay £150 for this kind of treatment, but let's leave that out of it, shall we?
** You may accuse me of dwelling a little too much on Stroud's nose, but, let's face it, it's big enough that I actually could dwell on it, literally, and raise a small herd of goats fed on her nasal hair into the bargain. So why not? ***
*** Also, I have to wonder what would happen if we got Philippa Stroud's nose and John Hatzistergos' chin into a room together. Would they breed and produce a race of giant-faced bigots, like an army of Easter Island statues giving Hitler salutes and burning crosses made of their own snot? I think this theory needs to be tested. Right fucking now.