23 November 2008

Janet-Street Porter: The New Joan

Gangly, ugly kid. Mod at 15, geek and hot-rod. Smarty-pants. Journalist and newspaper editor. BBC executive. Self-believer ("Milk-bottle bottomed glasses and frilly teeth" she laughs about herself). Fashionista. Fag hag (cruising friends of hers in London used to code "Just off to Janet's" as the park was just under her house). Jungle ranter (she was on 'I'm a Celebrity...' in 2004, a real put-off, but anyway). I'm just watching her breathe fire on the damp squib that is 'Loose Women'; it's like eating a large pile of mashed potato with cream - hateful, but strangely comforting. She's saying how she hates expensive face-cream (controversial, Janet, those ladies are really milking your intellect) and I'd just heard her on Desert Island Discs, being actually rather sweet. Despite her abrasive chat and accent (which people are snobbish about - because it is rather grating - but it shouldn't inform our opinion of her character) it is telling that she would rather take the Pet Shop Boys to her island rather than some classical cleverness. I LIKE HER. A lot. I was just looking for that human angle. And now I find she has it, I realise she is the only woman to put on Joan Bakewell's granny slippers and catapult us into a new generation.

She hasn't got any of the foolish feminist beliefs that would have the 'Loose Women' gossip show believe men are the root of all evil: she is quite aware that men come fully formed from home, she says, wanting to change them is ineffective tomfoolery - better to wake up every morning and think you're bloody brilliant - "No-one else is going to do it". Now some may see this hardcore act as unnecessary, but those who have been caught-up on the wrong end of a bastard know all too well a certain element of armour is necessary. Of course, there is that excellent side to her as well that just says "Life's too F***ing Short" (terrible book, apparently, never read it, probably won't) - we shouldn't realy be taking things to seriously, and this is where JSP comes into her own, as we don't really have to take her seriously either. I should like to have a wine with her - I feel her sense of humour is wry and hysterical.

She sings Gordon 'Crappucino' Ramsay's praises but quite easily sashays past him to a state of grace far above his "Eat the fucking lamb shank, you fucker" warblings. She is, quite possibly, the saviour not only of British television/journalism but also the new Messiah. But we'll have to see how she fares. I am not sure I can bear her having been on "I'm A Celebrity..", I refuse to watch it, but I do know she is not into reality TV snobbery whereas I must definitely am. As in - it is utter rubbish.

Janet Street-Porter, I urge you in your indomitable way to challenge Joan's crown (now that she has slipped over to Harman's menagerie and is bopping away with the over 80s via email) to help us rebuild the BBC. Her attitude to Brand and Ross was perfectly intelligent - a relief from the alarming and risible paddywhacks people have been spewing all over the place. She knows it's a part of a strange blokey-lad culture, and we all know she doesn't do lad. Neither does she do obsequious, something the latest Brand-Ross embarassment has in spades:

"Brand and Ross were reflecting this attitude" (the blokey one), she writes. "Senior executives should have junked the item, and insisted the apology was appropriate. Fines, sackings and investigations can't alter a culture."

Quite. Straightforward. Sensible. I think if we can temper a bit of swearing with some informed, intelligent ideas instead of a desperate need to shock, we might all feel a bit calmer and a bit less excitable. We must take Janet Street-Porter as a role model, as for all that she is a hectic, loud-mouthed squawker, she also has a heart which seems to be placed more or less correctly and this is no mean feat in a television culture revved-up with blame, nastiness and trite rubbish. Janet - just don't get too complacent and serve yourself with sound-bitey programmes. Get on the bus and use your clout to encourage some young presenters to be different, write firebrand stuff, and ignore the gloomy norm.

19 November 2008

Joan Bakewell: Media and Morality

Just spun out of Dame Joan's key lecture on Media and Morality, which she subtitles the 'credibility crunch'. Pithy, Joan. Her grande-dame position in British broadcasting gives her a pretty viable platform, and her views were clear and succinct. In her day (although she graciously avoided a royal tone - just) she says there was a collective moral standpoint due to a committed and comprehensive team with no outsourcing; every day the whole gamut of producers, programme makers, make-up artists etc walked through the BBC gates, they had moral guideline, they had team spirit - thems were the glory days. This kept them under one moral umbrella that no longer exists under BBC's manic corporate pluralism.
More or less, she was actually saying in her day it was better (her position as a Harman-appointed tsarina for the over-50s reflects her new position as advocate of the old guard), but she has a point. There was a commitment to class and excellence that is now overshadowed by computing of viewing figures, audience grabbing and a much wider channel selection. A smart question about "dumbing-down" didn't bring much joy - she refused to be drawn into a debate over the term - her desire is not for increased censorship of supposed "stoopid" programming, but a call for JUDGEMENT.

That's fair - but we didn't delve into a darker side, which is that we the audience are calling for this programming, and the unwitting agreement the Dame makes about "dumbing-down" also indicates she must recognise a definite dumbing down of culture. She can't do anything about that, but she is being far too kind about programmes like Big Brother (citing its important social resonance amongst young people - WHAT?) and sits on the fence about actual positive action from an intelligent hardcore that currently doesn't exist.

Unsurprisingly the ubiquitous Brand and Ross were mentioned; she thinks Brand is great, vibrant, but thinks his producer (employed by Brand - hence the outsourcing problem and lack of moral 'umbrella') needed judgement. Can't we just state once and for all that Brand isn't really that good? He is a witty, psuedo-shocking monger but he isn't on Joan's level - why support him Dame?

About fatcats - well, the BBC, says the Dame, is now a corporate system (duh!), a far cry from the team jolly that was 60s BBC as seen by JB. Let's take a look at Rupert Murdoch - he has most governments in his pocket and we could safely say that the governments are also part of this corporate monster. There is no striving for excellence, Joan, not because of a slight down-turn in moral judgement, but because it's not about TV, it's about corporate control and money, another much more sinister Big Brother. Any exciting programmes that Joan may have made (I liked her example of the erect penis on BBC1 - and I can imagine her ogling it whilst giving good intellect) are a thing of the past. But not because we are in a shoddy moral morass, but because morals are, and have always been, non-existent in the current 'climate'. Also - Lady Dame - how much is Harriet Harman paying you for your tsarina-skills when you admit yourself you can only be a liaison "voice" of the over-50s and not a firebrand change-maker like you could be?

She is a great voice - she is also glam (excellent brocade coat, great hair, voice-purr) and an iconic figure in broadcasting - but what happened to Dame Joan Bakewell on the other end of an erect microphone? We need you Joan, not emailing Harriet Harman about that 40% of "oldies" as you so quaintly put it, but helping us, as a nation, blaze a trail. Please.

15 November 2008

Dream On, Dreamer

This is a straight-back-atcha reply to my dear Misplaced Misfit (http://misplacedmisfit.com/), a true lady with a mission. The dream sphere has been broken; she wakes up with a warm fuzzy feeling, but knows ultimately that her interior is solving some earthly problem in a disturbingly forthright way, albeit through the misty landscape of a dream.

There is an in-between time, I mean in-between sleeping and waking up, when the whole dream is so startingly clear and right (or wrong) that when you regain proper consciousness, the four walls surrounding you could be downtown Mexico City or Alaska. With Sarah Palin brandishing an eskimo's scalp outside the frosted window. Anyway, I digress.

My Iberian dream last night was disturbing to say the least - Spain outside soon turned into a broken-up Dali-esque roadblock, perhaps a road split up by a recent earthquake, or even a Will Smith-style Madrid with weeds running along the cracks and zombies hidden in every dark corner.

Then, horror upon horror, a marriage to a female family member ensued(not a blood relative I hasten to add - although I wouldn't be surprised if dreams dabble in incest to really put you in a muck-sweat when you wake-up), involving a down-at-heel restaurant with plastic palm trees, a "Charlie Dimmock" water feature and boy(me - at least I wasn't represented as a wood nymph or worse)-on-girl snogging with said family member, who soon morphed into a girl who had once cursed me, some Spanish lass from the olive-growing region with fake boobs and a mouth like a sewer. Except, of course, in the dream she was whispering sweet nothings in my ear and feeding me grapes, or somesuch.

Luckily I am man enough to accept the sexuality part was probably not a myth-breaking motif on my non-existent love life, but it did bring up an interesting question.

Why am I dining out in tacky restaurants in my dreams? Anyone who knows me would be quite shocked at the less-than-savoury surroundings of my dreamscape. And why, since my recent uplifting experience at Jimmy and Sergio's wedding, am I destined to be married off to a girl in a post-apocalyptic Spain?

Too many post-plague films, too many cheese and biscuits before bed.

And I am re-reading Lord of the Rings.

Just wait - tonight I'll be grappling with an elf-maiden before racing up a mountain to put my "ring" in a fiery hole.

Dreams: Not something you should take to heart - but as Misfit says, sometimes it's a shame you have to wake up and grapple not with elf-maidens but with the shopping at Tescos and there are too many grease-laden crumbs near the toaster this morning, phantom night Toast-eater. Not a gripe I shall bother explaining but one any OCD-stricken flat-sharer will understand.

13 November 2008

The Dreaded Number 8

After Obama's scintillating victory, we can only hope that California does the right thing about gay marriage - it's all rather trying when a glimpse of equality peeks its head over the horizon only to be grabbed away by a group of dull-headed Mormons. My dear Michael Kearns has written an excellently breathless (suitably so - nothing says drama like a gay Spanish wedding) article about the recent nuptials of our hot-rod friends Jimmy and Sergio in Madrid. A thrilling moment for various generations of gay men as they kissed on the balcony in the Plaza Mayor. (Yes, I'll admit to a tear - but just the one - and I squeezed it back in). But MK says it better here:

How To Be The Best Man At A Gay Wedding by Michael Kearns:

Accept an invitation to the marriage of Jimmy Shaw and Sergio Sanchez, to be held in Madrid on Oct. 17.
Think back to the year they met, 2005, the very year that same-sex marriage was legalized in Spain.
Recall that heart-pumping love-at-first-sight moment: Sergio standing on the balcony of his apartment as Jimmy is en route to a rehearsal for the Spanish premiere of Dream Man.
Arrive in Madrid the day before the wedding, just in time to help run errands with Jimmy: pick up the grooms' Hugo Boss wedding suits at the tailor's, help Jimmy try on at least 10 white shirts before finding the right one, buy hot underpants for Sergio.
Celebrate the grooms' final night as single muchachos with a few dozen of the wedding guests, gathered from all over the planet, on a rooftop restaurant with a glistening view of the city.
Exchange breathless phone calls with Jimmy on the morning of the wedding, including one reminding me to bring Sergio's tweezers to the hotel where they are staying (in separate rooms, of course).
Take a cab to the hotel, tweezers in tow.
Burst into Jimmy's room where he stands, in his underpants, crying.
Be a diligent best man and iron “Bridezilla's” white shirt.
Walk Jimmy to the Plaza Mayor—careful not to run into Sergio on the way—along with Darren, also a groomsman, and Andrew, his twentysomething comrade who had flown in from Scotland hours earlier.
Pin the boutonnière/corsage on Jimmy's jacket.
Understand virtually every word delivered by openly gay councilman Pedro Zerolo (even though it's spoken entirely in Spanish) because the impassioned cadences are so clearly emotional, politically and spiritually.
Hold Andrew's hand.
Wonder—had he been alive to see you marry a man—if your father would, as Sergio's does, lovingly caress your face in his hands, as the ceremony concludes.
Miss your daughter.
Remember the support from your mother when you married Philip in 1992, weeks before he died of AIDS, in a bittersweet ceremony that was symbolic but not legal.
Observe the sea of people, unrelated to the newlyweds, who have assembled in the plaza to offer their congratulations by applauding and shouting wildly, looking up at the dazzlingly handsome couple, standing on the balcony of the Casa de la Panaderia.
Hop on a chartered bus for a two-hour ride to Palacio de Hoyuelos, a 16th Century Renaissance palace in Provincia de Segovia, where the spiritual ceremony will take place, and where a couple dozen of us will luxuriate for the entire weekend.
Perform the evening's first piece of layman theater, after the minister's stirring invocation, incorporating the über-romantic words of Romeo and Juliet.
Dine on lamb, as melt-in-your-mouth delicious as sherbet.
Toast—to the husbands!
Toast—to the family!
Toast—to the friends!
Observe—with a tinge of voyeurism—as the couple take to the dance floor, sensually entwined in each other's sinewy bodies.
Party like it's Studio 54, circa 1977.
Make love—really make love, not merely have sex—to a young man in the early hours of the morning after the curtain came down on the post-nuptial festivities.
Laugh hysterically when he says, “You aren't going to have a heart attack—are you, old man?”
Sleep until 4 p.m. or so on Saturday.
Make artistic comparisons at every turn: Cezanne-like landscapes, Almovodarian trysts, Shakespearean balconies, Cowardesque repartee.
Create a game, utilizing the grandiose staircase of the castle (approximately 30 feet in length and 10 feet wide) in which each player descends the stairs portraying a famous personage, fictional or not.
Stumble down the stairs like Elizabeth Taylor playing Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Laugh until it hurts.
Think that you might have a heart attack, old man.
Debrief with Jimmy on the train ride from Segovia to Madrid, determined not to forget a single juicy detail of the prior 48 hours.
Return to Los Angeles, jolted by the very notion that something as noxious as Proposition 8, depriving people who love each other of the human right to be married, could be passed.

I worked with MK on the seminal gay play "Dream Man" (which he is currently editing the film version of) and his activism is something we could all learn from, especially as he is, as I write, screaming down the Mormons in an LA he helped shape. Some people will see my worries as being of little significance, but I am not a marriage supporter, merely a supporter of hope, and if Jimmy and Sergio can take that step then there is no reason why other shouldn't be allowed to. It is mind-boggling, quite frankly.


Here's a poem I wrote years ago with a rather bitter pill in my gob: I imagine I'd been dumped or indeed was considering dumping myself off the edge of a cliff. Luckily, and as usual, a couple of choice words soon had me chortling and the Climber was born. These days I see things rather less dramatically, but perhaps darker - through a lens darkly, as the phrase goes - as you can see from 'Futurism', an earlier post, that is apocalyptic in tone and has no time even for the failings of romance. And is rather cruel about Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and these were the days pre-TomKat, when even that diminutive Scientologist seemed alright, despite the ginger nutcase on his arm. I include a photo of a rock similar to that climbed by the Cruise-meister in "Mission Impossible" - a theme, bloggers, a theme!

On corner
Of peak, snow-clouds gather.
O fragile shape, hung and
Framed in huge mottled spaces of
White and rock, seek not
The echo on your mind, that
Sorry burden of loss that is
Pushing you into space.
A soft wind whistles, suspending
You on surfing lip of rock, as your
Vision of lost love
Shimmers in the snow-light.
It is now that you let go
The sick gods of Romance
Have chased you quite far enough.

New Blog

It's been some time since I entered the fray; I see that a multitude of worthy bloggers now people this rather proper land far from the hysterics of Myspace and the ego-cuddling of Facebook. Since moving back to Scotland and thanks to the suggestions of friends, the Bushblog is back, albeit in uncharacteristically sober form. A flurry of poems and prose pieces, historical titbits and reviews of books I have enjoyed will ensue, a happy-making online diary for likeminded folk. Please also peruse the list of links I have included, with various talented artists, writers, journalists, musicians and photographers who bless my life with their presence and/or knowledge from time to time.

Elvis and Diana

He's been really nice to me since
Christmas, the long why and
Winding wherefore lost in the post I
Count up before work. It's the usual
Gruesome scene, bills swathed in red
Bloody red and the little mouth of
Despair-cum-letterbox mewls pitilessly like
A Cure song, deliverer of the news - a
Letter from Nemesis, Kentucky. He's
Schtupping this Elvis Costello look-a-like he
Found in the personals ads ("Indie kid SOH but
Doesn't respond to jokes seeks Bi
On the seat of his pants") biting his
Neck in some cineaste's wet dream
Deep downtown fucking in a wheelie
Bin, all filmic with sick and some A star
Graffiti: The King Is Dead So How Come I
High-Fived Him In Woolworths? Same wet
Dream I had this morning before I woke
Up to the vacuum-cleaner and the imprint of airless
Space on his side of the bed that spoke of the
Intelligent rocker shades Elvis rescued him in,
His sepulchral Krall, fanning him with jazz hands night
After night when the crowds have gone home.


I include this, my favourite poem and I think my best, with a picture drawn by the prodigiously talented Claudia Massie, whose website ought to be looked at and can be here: http://www.claudiamassie.com/. The picture is taken from a series of chapters I wrote and she illustrated about a drunken and sexually promiscuous detective called Quinsley, the Booze-Cruise detective, who I dreamed up in my booze-cruising days in Madrid. Hardly autobiographical, I hasten to add. Although quite. The poem, however, is a mad song about the end of the world.

There´s a bed, an alarm clock and a line of
Uncounted sheep waiting to eke me out of this dogme
Dream I keep having, but each time I doze off to
Action! I´m Lars von Try-hard directing my past lives -
Ugly heads rear, a hydra´s memory bank
Muddled with washed-out faces and words
Blurring the Icelandic soundtrack that tick-tocks in tongues
With me reflected in the camera lens. The rooks, overused
Set pieces from some Streep bird-woman epic,
Shift and bustle heavily and scowl, cowls and wings sticking
My Oscar-worn face like butter to the dream. I´m
Stuck in strips and run criss-cross over
The set, lines on a hangar floor with Nicole
Barking up from the grid, the dogme dog that lost
Her cue. (Off-set she´s no less off world, woof after
Method woof in her caravan while I switch
The late night channels to Cruise control). If like me
You´ve been living in a box for the past few years – not
That "out of the box" fandango that preaches bungee-jumping,
Bongs and brave new worlds – then tomb raiders and
Movie stars are still God and I´m walking
A never-never path slung together
By mountains, spit and trouble. Look me up under
Dream-weaver to the stars, Google-heads, I can afford to
Delicately duplicate verse, line after line, dropping geek-by-
Night mysticism and lit by top of the range lamplight.
You can watch me every time I make a mistake and
Continue dying, one more talking head
Nodding to the tumble and fall of the universe.


Gore Vidal, it would seem (sorry to be repetitive), believed that sex and love were incompatible. He lived for forty years with the same man but they never kissed, never shared the same bed, but instead shared a kind of cerebral relationship that kept them going until the end.
Edith Sitwell, another heroine and the author of that wonderful, if ultimately flawed treatise on Elizabeth I "The Queens and the Hive", puts it like this:

Said the Sun to the Moon - 'When you are but a lonely white crone,
And I, a dead King in my golden armour somewhere in a dark wood,
Remember only this of our hopeless love
That never till Time is done
Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one.'

Of course they are both quite right, and it is only in the plebeian never-world of today that romance has become big business, and the mind has been lost, exploding in a thousand sparks on the edge of the universe.

Gore Vidal's "Point to Point Navigation : A Memoir"

The end is nigh. This time, though, I´m talking about the world. Gore Vidal´s latest memoirs are an endgame onslaught on various modern (but eternal) problems - such as the American Empire. He´s brilliant, also, on many of the recent alumni of notable genius - Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Christopher Isherwood - but mostly, himself. Here´s how he ends the book, some Pope, just to give you a taster:

"Nor public flame nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread empire, CHAOS! is restor´d;
Light dies before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal Darkness buries all."

"Why did you learn that" a classmate asked the great man in 1943. "Because one of these days it´s bound to be apt." Nuff said.