Saturday, December 31, 2005

Looking Forward to New Year's Eve

This morning was a late start; I slept as long as I possibly could to try and shake whatever is in my system. We eventually emerged for 11am as Rich had organised a brunch for some of his friends. Apart from photographing it (here and here) I was a rather passive participant and went back to bed after the guests had departed as I was still feeling grotty.

Hopefully though, all this rest will set me on good course to enjoy tonight; we are going to fundraiser party at one of Rich’s friends’ house. I am going to be in Highland Dress and am assured that, between my outfit and my accent, I will be the belle of the ball… Should be fun!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Day and Night in Austin

Friday morning Rich drove us out for breakfast tacos at a Mexican Bakery nearby and then on to the banks of the Colorado River for a stroll along some of the jogging/cycling tracks there. We got involved in a lively discussion about the use of discretion in the application of law as we walked and, I fear, missed enjoying most of the scenery as a result (although I did manage to capture this shot of Austin’s downtown skyline!)

From there we drove on to a restaurant overlooking Lake Travis for lunch and had more Tex-Mex. Austin is certainly a more attractive city than Dallas; the area is hillier and more wooded and generally seems less uniform than the larger city. I can see why its residents are so fond of it. It is suffering from the remarkably warm weather of late though (I had to cover my neck as we lunched as it was burning in the sunshine!) as you can see from this shot, taken from the restaurant terrace, the water level of the lake is very low.

We headed back to Rich’s house from there as a lingering headache I’d had all morning was beginning to tire me out. I took a nap while Rich & Brett played a PS2 Star Wars game.

Early evening, we drove into downtown Austin and had a walk along 6th Street which is the main ‘evening’ street in Austin, although it was still early so wasn’t too busy. Dined at a very pleasant seafood restaurant (which is a converted motor-repair shop. Brett observed the last time he was there it had repaired his car for him) and then went on to a bar on 4th Street (the ‘gay’ street) to meet up with Michael, Rich’s new boyfriend. Michael is involved in fundraising to build a new theatre for a local arts group and so he, Rich and Brett know a lot of the same people and spent some time comparing notes. Later we went on to a nightclub further along the strip and enjoyed some people watching (and Rich & Michael mingling.) There’s a rather grainy shot of the them here. Brett, Rich & Michael eventually headed onto the dancefloor while I looked on. (Club dancing is not my thing at the best of times!)

Unfortunately I was feeling increasingly under the weather and left them to it at around 1:30am to take a cab home. A bit of a trial when I arrived though; the electronic key I had for the door of the house worked (I could hear the lock opening) but then I couldn’t open the door and surmised that there was a second lock to which I didn’t have the key… Realising I didn’t have Rich’s mobile number and that Brett had left his phone in the house I ended up trying the windows and doors (expecting at any moment for a patrol car to pull-up and ask me what I was up to!) In the end I was saved by the fact that Brian (Rich’s lodger) was already home. He was very gracious about being woken up in the small hours to let me in though. (I later learned he was worried that it was his ex-boyfriend ringing the bell, as he has been expected to make some such scene, so finding me there was actually a relief for him!)

To Austin

Before leaving for Austin we had lunch with Susan and Brett’s mum; pleasant enough meal although Brett is now sufficiently recovered from his cold that he got into an argument with his mum about why she didn’t want the Mac computer that her children had bought her for Christmas last year. (I think he had wanted to use the Mac as an avenue to spend more time talking with his mum, helping her to get to know the machine, but she had just wanted a computer that worked the way she was used to.) Fortunately the discussion remained civil and lunch proceeded.

I ordered an appetiser for my main course, but when it arrived the cheese-dip with steak pieces was fairly bland and looked like it would congeal in a most unattractive way if left to cool. I ate some of it, but was also grateful that Susan wanted to share her steak and Brett had lots of chips on his plate. Susan is planning a trip up to Boston for a jobs’ fair and was agonising over what the rest of the family would do if she moved to a different state to take up a job offer. Having all grown up to live within a convenient visiting distance of each other and depending on other family members for baby-minding assistance, etc., it would be a big change in the family dynamic if one of the matriarchs were half a continent away, conversely it’s a lot to ask of the family to all follow her: Quite the dilemma.

We shared a lovely dessert though to take her mind off it!

After lunch we loaded up the car and headed south towards Austin, the State Capital, and Rich, Brett’s friend and former roommate, who is hosting us through New Year.

The drive was fairly dull; this area of Texas is pretty flat and endless strips of Ford dealerships and neon-outlined fast-food chains can only hold the attention for so long. I got bored and started messing with the camera on my phone. I got some nice shots of the sunset though – or at least not bad for a fixed-focus one-megapixel device used in a moving car…

We arrived in Austin a little before 7pm (after the best part of four hours on the road!) Rich’s house is a lovely (large!) Victorian mini-mansion on a corner. It reminds me somewhat of the Garden District houses of New Orleans with its two-storey wrap-around veranda. Inside, it’s very tastefully furnished with a seamless blend of period and modern. It looks like he’s put a lot of work into it.

Once we’d got settled we drove into town and Brett and Rich gave me a little tour of the Austin highlights before we went to Chuy’s (pronounced: Chewies) for dinner. Chuy’s is a Tex-Mex diner/restaurant and seemed to be very popular; there was a 70-minute wait for a table. We picked up some cocktails and chips & dip and did some more catching up while we waited for the table.

The décor of the place had a certain quirkiness to it that Rich couldn’t really explain; the ceiling was hung with lots (lots!) of model fish and old vinyl LPs and there were quite a few references to Elvis around which we could reconcile with the records but not with the fish…

The cutlery came in little packets (“Sterilised for your protection.”) which had three prayers written on the back; each one labelled ‘Protestant’, ‘Catholic’ and ‘Jewish.’ Very strange… surely if you are religious enough to pray before each meal, you’re already going to know your benediction?

After dinner we drove up to 37th Street which is renowned for its Christmas lights (see here) and then had ice-cream ‘crush-ins’ at Amy’s, a popular local ice cream chain before heading home to bed.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

DMV: The Neverending Story

My morning has been very lazy; mostly re-reading my own blog and chatting to Brett’s parents. Brett on the other hand has been in DMV Hell. You may recall from previous posts that he is trying to get his driving license renewed. Yesterday, after spending about half of the day there, shuffling from queue to queue and taking a theory test, there weren’t any slots left for him to do the practical test so he had to go back today.

He left around 7:30 this morning, as the DMV opens at 8:00am and he wanted to be sure of getting it done as soon as possible. Unfortunately he’d forgotten to take the receipt with him that proved he’d paid for his test yesterday and they didn’t have a record of it on their computer systems (?!?!), so he was back at home a little after 8:00am. He returned again around 9:00am with the news that he had a test scheduled for 10:00am and duly set off again around twenty before. A little before 11:00 his mum received a call asking where her proof of insurance was – normally it should be kept in the car, but it was still in the house and he needed it to show he was insured to drive the car for his test. So his dad set off with the necessary documentation. Luckily the local DMV branch is only ten minutes drive from home.

After all this mucking about I really hope he passes! It’s going to be a severe kick in the teeth if he doesn’t, plus it’s going to throw a wrench in the works of our plans for getting to Austin today! On the upside though, I saw the ‘checklist’ of skills he has to demonstrate as part of his test and it didn’t look too onerous. Just so long as he manages to not get up-tight in the actual testing situation…

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Turtle Creek

Today started early again. Despite having gone to bed after midnight, I was awake and alert at about 5:30am so headed downstairs to blog. Chris emerged an hour or so later and we read and watched TV for a while, then had breakfast and chatted some. Around 9:30am we decided to wake our respective spouses before they slept the morning away. Kevin needed to go into work to file a brief he’s been working on and Brett needed to go into the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his driving license renewed (it expired three years ago and he needs it to legally drive us to Austin tomorrow.) As my presence wasn’t required, I took Chris up on his offer of the loan of a bike to go for a ride along the nearby cycle-track.

I ended up having to borrow t-shirt, shorts, cycling-gloves, socks and sunglasses but once I eventually got underway it was great; the weather was mild and sunny and the track was well-surfaced and uncrowded. It only ran for two miles before being closed off for upgrading, but around where it ended there was a reasonable sized public park which I scouted around for a while before heading back. I believe the park was on the banks of Dallas’ Turtle Creek, which gives its name to the Dallas Gay Men’s Chorus (The Turtle Creek Chorale.) Anyway, I have a few pics of the creek here.

By the time I’d finished showering and shaving on my return, Chris was back with Carter – but not Brett. Apparently because his license had expired so long ago, he had to retake his driving test and so was still at the DMV trying to organise that!

Chris and I headed out for lunch at one of his favourite diners, where an appetiser of Chicken Quesadillas and a chocolate milkshake served as a substantial lunch for me. After that we took a drive around some of the nearby neighbourhoods after I had commented on the variety of architecture you see in local houses. As we were driving down Swiss Avenue (kind of the ‘Mansion Boulevard’ of Dallas) I spotted this house. Americans love to extensively decorate their exteriors for Christmas; trees, shrubs, windows, eaves, doors are all decorated with fairy lights. The lawns are littered with Christmas Trees, snowmen, reindeer models and candy-cane towers. However I think that gift-wrapping an entire wing is a bit excessive…

Brett was there when we got back with news that Steve was coming over for the evening, so we headed straight off. Steve arrived shortly after we got back to Brett’s parents’ place but by then we’d been invited to dinner at Sarah’s to see their new house. I think he’d actually just come over to collect a video cassette of the family’s home movies to transfer to DVD but then someone said… “well put it on and let’s see them!” The movies were entertaining, but mostly consisted of lots of children unwrapping Christmas and birthday presents and playing in gardens. I must admit I dozed-off about half an hour in…

After that, a five-minute drive over to Sarah & Andy’s where Sarah had cooked us dinner. We had a full dinner while watching Law & Order before heading home again.

A Gay Day

Nothing much happened yesterday morning; the day really started around midday when Alex B arrived for lunch. We headed out to a Tex-Mex restaurant called 'The Blue Goose' which provided tasty fare that kept me going for the afternoon. It was good to see Alex again; he is engaging company and we haven't kept up with each other very much since Montreal, so we had plenty to talk about. When we first met, he was living in Kansas City but has since moved to Dallas, bought himself a condo and joined up with the local gay rugby team and gym.
After lunch he showed us his apartment and then we headed back to Brett's parents where we chatted for another half-hour or so until Kevin & Chris arrived. As Alex headed off home, Kevin & Chris exchanged Carter for us and we set off for an afternoon shopping in one of the malls on the way back to their house.
Brett was the one who nominally wanted to go shopping (although I think Kevin was after some new trainers too) but in the end it was me who spent the money first; I wandered into a branch of Banana Republic and found some nice long-sleeved t-shirts and a sweater. (Luckily the nearby Abercrombie & Fitch didn't have anything that caught my eye or it could have been an expensive afternoon.) As we explored the mall further though we came across a Watch Station. Brett has been after a new watch for a while and so, it seems, has Kevin; they both picked up new Swiss Army watches, while Chris and I looked on. (Actually looking-on rapidly lost its appeal and I ended up showing Chris how to use predictive text input on his phone while we waited for the brothers...) From there we went for a drink at one of the refreshment spots; smoothies all round - and an extra large one for me, as it gave me a chance to win a video iPod (the latest object of desire) for my beloved. The draw is made on New Year's day so if he hasn't got over the compulsion to purchase by then, there will still be time to get one before we return to the higher prices of home. (Assuming my luck doesn't come through for me in the draw.)
Back at the house Brett found a comic book (I think it may be the latest episode in one of the series he reads) and so dived straight into that while Kevin read the paper, so Chris and I hung out in the kitchen with a beer chatting about life (and comparing notes on Kevin & Brett.) Of-course once they realised that we were gossiping away, so began a series of 'drive-bys' by one or other of them to see what we were up to. I think I might suggest we form the Gay Brothers' Husbands Club or something along those lines, just to wind them up some more. (Mwuhahahaha!! Foolish mortals!)
As dinner time came around we drove over to a nearby(ish) seafood restaurant for dinner. We shared some deep-fried alligator bits and a very tasty meat-and-rice sausage for starter. (I've never had alligator before and found it pleasant enough - and not really like chicken as Chris had earlier led me to believe.) I had a seared tuna steak for my main which was mouthwateringly delicious - previously when I've had tuna steaks back home (actually, thinking about it, it may just be in Spain) they've been too thin and over-cooked and tasted like cardboard. This one was about the same size as you'd expect a beef-steak to be and cooked in much the same way. Delicious! I still ended up leaving about a third of it though - plus most of the garlic mash - before I burst a gut. Skipped dessert again...
Conversation was varied; encompassing travel-talk, family and life in general. It did veer onto sex earlier than I had expected, but I was pleased to see that Brett has at least as frank a relationship with his brother as I do with Rosie about such matters.
After dinner we drove on to Dallas' gay district and checked out a couple of bars. It being Tuesday none of them were particularly buzzing but that was fine as we weren't really looking to party. The second one we came to, JR's, had a top floor open to the street along one side so we bought beers and watched the world go by for a bit, enjoying the mild weather. I recalled Brett mentioning the bar when we were in DC last year at a bar with the same name, but in the end we still couldn't decide if the two places were related or not.
After a couple of beers we went on to a third bar, but it turned out to be closed (despite the tantalising advertising over the door promising us 'Boys on Boxes - Tonight!') so we headed home where Chris insisted on baking cookies (at 11:30pm, huh?!) while we drank tea and watched a couple of episodes of Family Guy. By midnight though, Brett was dozing-off, so we called it a night.
I am getting a bit worried about him though; he's been fighting a head-cold for a quite a while now. Longer than I was, I think - and mine lingered for longer than I thought was normal. He's certainly been needing a lot more sleep than I have lately. Kevin was giving him some grief about his diet this afternoon and I do sometimes think it isn't entirely balanced. I think there may be more than one New Year's resolution in our house next week.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow...

As I sit here, looking out over the back porch illuminated in the winter sunshine, I am browsing the BBC News site and it looks like we are in the right place, weather-wise. England is under snow at the moment and it looks like its going to get worse. As today is a Bank Holiday, that means there will be lots of traffic this afternoon and evening as people return home ready for work tomorrow… just as the overnight temperatures (-2°C/28°F in London) freeze the snow-slush from today’s fall into hard ice ready to send motorists careening into ditches, embankments and each other.

Brett made a distraught comment about ‘missing the snow,’ but I’m afraid that unless we were in a well-stocked, remote country cottage with nothing better to do but enjoy the weather, I am not missing the snow at all!

There are some nice pictures of how I would like it to be here.

Good Morning

Hmm. I’m over the jetlag now, but still seem to be getting up several hours before anyone else. Brett’s family seem to be late risers.

I’ve been putting the time to good use though; at the moment I’m re-reading my own blog archive, taking notes for my annual end-of-year-catch-up email to pretty much everyone in my address book. It’s kind of a second distillation of my blog thoughts; more of a summary than a journal.

Also this morning, browsing the news, I came across this article on the BBC news. Personally I remain to be convinced about mobile television. I can almost see a use for it, but at the same time feel it’s pointless apart from in a very few particular situations. Maybe I should stop deflecting Brett from buying a video iPod so we can see whether the concept actually works or not…

Monday, December 26, 2005


We made a reasonably early start today; we left the house before 11am to head out for a late breakfast at a Waffle House with Brett’s parents. A delightful ‘diner’ kind of experience and tasty food. Then Brett’s mum took us over to the ‘Firewheel Town Center’ to do some shopping.

Imagine if Disney bought a piece of land and constructed the commercial centre of a small American town on it and you kind of have the idea; it’s an open air shopping mall where all the buildings are eerily pristine and there is music coming from every lamppost.

Alas, building in the Disney-style doesn’t normally have to incorporate traffic through the Magic Kingdom, and it’s clear that the developers of Firewheel had no clue what they were doing in that regard; there’s roadside parking outside every shop which means all of the cute little streets are chockablock with traffic looking for a parking space within stepping distance of their preferred store and lots of shoppers wandering everywhere with no clear rights-of-way for either car or pedestrian.

The Disney analogy doesn’t stop with the design either! Each of the shops seemed to have at least one person wearing a headset whose sole purpose was to say ‘Welcome, to ‘X’ store. Do you need any help?’ and ‘Thanks for stopping by, y’all.’ The first time I got approached it quite freaked me out as I couldn’t quite pick up what she was saying and thought she wanted something from me...

A curious thing I’ve noticed in a lot of the advertising here is the presumption that people have a right to the best, newest, cheapest of everything; a badly overused phrase is “Get the ‘X’ you deserve.” It reminded me of something I heard some time ago; a comment on why so many people feel unhappy with their lives and end up in therapy, “When I was young, all we hoped for was to be comfortable. Nowadays people take comfort for granted and expect that life will bring them happiness too.” I fear I agree; we expect way too much and adverts telling us we have a right to the world on a plate isn’t improving anybody’s lot.

After we’d done enough shopping we drove over to Susan’s and then on to Steve’s place up in Denton, about forty-five minutes away. It was planned to be an evening of musical films; firstly a showing of the archive DVD of a production of Superstar in which Steve recently starred, followed by a visit to the local multiplex to see The Producers.

Superstar was a bit of a revelation; compared to the quality of AmDram show you get in the UK it was virtually professional! Steve has an excellent voice and carried the role of Christ very well. There were a couple of times where my fingers twitched and I went into ‘Director/Producer’ mode, thinking how much better it would have been if it had been done the way I would have done it, but generally the standard was very high. Brett and I had vaguely talked of flying over to see him starring in their production of Into The Woods and, having seen Superstar, I think I’d take that idea more seriously in future.

After that we headed out for dinner at a nearby barbeque diner and had some fairly tasty meat (although I’ve no idea whether it was pork or beef!) I even managed to scavenge some salad! Highlight of the meal was actually seeing someone wearing what looked like a ten-gallon hat in earnest!

Coming out of the restaurant, I marvelled again that it was Boxing Day night and yet we were wandering around in our shirtsleeves. (The forecast is for snow in London tomorrow!)

Then it was onto the cinema; a notice at the ticket desk reminded patrons that this was a no-smoking theatre and that they could not bring food, drink or firearms into the venue. It left me freaked out by the thought that polite people who would take note of such a request might have wanted to bring firearms with them to see a film in the first place. This country is a madhouse! [Edit: See here for photo.]

The movie was good though. I’d seen the stage show of The Producers in Washington, DC, last year but had fortunately forgotten a lot of the details, so it was like seeing the show afresh and I laughed heartily in lots of places. (I also still have just a bit of a soft spot for Matthew Broderick even when he is playing a dork.) So, on the whole, a jolly good day.

Tomorrow also looks busy; Brett has to try and renew his driving license first thing, so that he’ll be legal to drive us to Austin on Thursday. Then we have lunch with Alex B whom we met in Montreal during the GALA Festival last year. At the time he was singing with the Kansas City chorus, but has since moved to Dallas. Then it’s on to Kevin & Chris’ place for the evening. I think it’s still up in the air as to exactly what we’ll be doing, but I expect there will be food and drink involved and hopefully lots of talk.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Poker on Christmas Day

Lazed around for the morning and half of the afternoon, then headed over to Susan and Al’s for lunch. Lots of leftovers to choose from – I loved the very tasty beef (pot-roast?)

Al had the first seven chapters of R. Kelly’s ‘Urban Opera’ Trapped In The Closet on Tivo and suggested we watch it. It’s a bit strange; proper kind of an opera storyline done by a R&B artist but by the sound of it, it’s more of a soap opera as he keeps releasing extra chapters. A curiosity, though, for sure.

There was a certain amount of discussion about whether we wanted to all see a movie and what movie that should be; it went round in circles for a while and eventually petered out. In the end Susan took the kids to see Cheaper By The Dozen 2 while seven of us stayed behind and played poker.

It was a good and fast-paced game and I think I performed adequately, although I didn’t take the pot in either of the two tournaments we played; when I get bored, I tend to bluff too much and end up getting suckered into big pots on duff hands. Not wise.

Christmas Eve

I am the first up today again, and am feeling all gooey inside; not because it’s Christmas but because I caught the last few numbers of our Christmas show on Gaydar Radio while I was making coffee. Boy we sounded good; a hundred and thirty guys singing their hearts out on ‘Something Inside So Strong’ and ‘Bootylicious’ and you could hear every word. I felt SO proud it brought a tear to my eye.

Also on the email this morning was a poem that Rula had written to us to say how much she had enjoyed performing with us which was absolutely charming. We have definitely got another fan there; she signs herself Rula ‘mad about the boys’ Lenska (in reference to one of the songs she sang with us.)

And so this is Christmas. Well, what have we done?

Kevin came over around lunch time yesterday and Brett’s mum made us all some Breakfast Tacos while we chatted and Carter (Kevin & Chris’ boy) bounced around the lounge. We last saw him when he was about six months old and he has grown so much since then; Kevin was talking percentiles in terms of his height and weight for his age, but to me he just looked like a happy healthy kid enjoying himself.

Kevin and Brett agreed that they were freaked out by Chris and I emailing each other more often than they do (hardly my fault, since I think they mail each other about twice a year!)… but then Kevin reminded me that both he and Chris are anglophiles and tells me that I influence his life more than I realise, so now I’m freaked out too! Hey ho.

They are planning on coming over to London next year around April and want to get to Hampton Court Palace because Kevin is fascinated by Tudor history. I’ll have to see if I can dig up any more sites of Tudor interest for him before then. I did think initially of Eltham Palace, but that is more of an Art Deco ‘Mecca’ with only the Great Hall still standing from the period.

Late afternoon, we gathered up the presents from under the tree and headed over to Susan and Ali’s house where we added them to the collection already under the tree. (See here.) It was just as impressive a sight as I had expected.

Before any gifts could be opened though, the family ate dinner. Ali was the master chef, but it seems that every family member brought something to add to the feast. The Christmas Pud and Mince Pies I had arranged (thanks Chris!) were folded seamlessly into the buffet (although I don’t think they proved too popular…) There were no less than three joints of meat to choose from (turkey, ham and beef) plus stuffing and an array of vegetable dishes to accompany. Then there were the desserts; Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pineapple Cake, Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies; basically WAY too much food, even for the twenty-plus people eating. I am being very careful about my portion sizes while in the US this time as it is far too easy to overeat, so I tried a small amount of each dish on offer (and they were all pretty good) and then declared myself ‘full’ and declined all of the offered second-helpings from Ali (who I suspect was wondering where he was going to put all the leftovers!) Later in the evening though, I foolishly went back for dessert and tried both the cheesecake and the pecan pie with lots of whipped cream and came away feeling like Mr Creosote Serves me right.

After dinner, the family gathered in the lounge and Steve, the eldest brother, cleared the youngsters from around the tree to begin handing out the presents. It was, as expected, quite a lengthy task and I can see how it could get monotonous if you have to sit through it every year, but as a first-timer at the event I quite enjoyed it. It was a kind of crystallised ‘family’ moment and I felt warm inside to be participating.

Presents-wise I did pretty well out of it too. Brett and Rosie had really gone for it and bought me a flying lesson (accompanied by two passengers of my choice – hmm, I wonder who might want to come with me…), so that’s going to be a big event coming up in the future! There were several family photographs; one of Carter, one of Sarah’s family (Brett’s adult niece) and an album of family photos from over the years prepared by Susan which I think was the most touching gift. (It may also help me fix the names of some of the children in my head, although I think I’ve now got most of them straight.) I got a warm woolly scarf from Brett’s parents which will go nicely with my Chino jacket too.

After the clear-up was complete the evening began to fragment. I ended up lazing in the lounge, feeling the double dessert weighing me down, and dipping my toe occasionally into the family repartee. Chris proved to be the most entertaining; the more he drank, the more he said and while not usually a very talkative person his humour, when it comes, is deliciously acerbic. I got to chat with Steve a bit too as he and Brett were talking IT careers. I think we are going to try and spend time with each of the siblings over the next few days which is good, as I prefer smaller groups to larger ones for talking with people.

It was galling to see how some of the children have grown since we saw them last (about eighteen months ago); Carter has grown from a baby to precocious toddler, Abigail is a new arrival altogether and is on the verge of walking, Joshua (Stephen’s eldest) has progressed from being a schoolboy to being a young man (eighteen shortly and off to start a degree in Nanotechnology!) I understand why Brett is often wistful about his family; they are quite close-knit and it is clearly hard on him to miss seeing them all grow up. We’ve agreed that we will try and make it back for Thanksgivings in future (as it’s only an American holiday, hopefully the flights won’t be quite as hard to come by as these were) and probably alternating Christmases between the UK and the USA.

Right; time to get on with today.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chilling Nicely In The Warmth

I am feeling so nicely relaxed already. I woke up a couple of times during the night (as my body clearly didn’t get the memo about changing time-zones) but managed to doze off again each time.

We’ve just had a breakfast of wholewheat pancakes with pecans served with sausages and bacon and maple syrup. Yum! Nothing on the agenda now until Kevin (Brett’s younger brother) arrives with his son Carter around lunchtime.

This evening we’re all going over to Susan’s (Brett’s sister’s) house for the family Christmas Eve. This is the ‘present-fest’ for all the children (and adults.) Both Brett and Chris (Kevin’s partner) have dropped dark hints about the chaos that ensues at these events and I can kind of see what they are talking about. As well as the three brothers and a sister, there are children and grand-children aplenty. The tree here looks like an idealised Christmas advertisement, it is so stacked around with presents – and this is apparently less than half of the full complement; there are at least as many already around the tree at Susan’s and more yet to come.

I am quite looking forward to it; coming from a comparatively small family I have never seen a real tree with quite so many gifts beneath it and I think I’m going to enjoy the glee that I’m sure will ensue when the youngsters finally get let at them. The fact that I won’t have to clear up the mess or deal with the fall-out of over-tired, over-excited toddlers probably gives me a more positive outlook though…

Driving around last night to and from the restaurant I’m surprised at how many of the houses are so decorated. It seems almost de rigeur to have at least a cascade of white lights from your eaves and bedecking your garden shrubbery. The keener households have reindeer, snowmen and Santa Claus constructed out of fairy lights too, not to mention the many illuminated garlands and trees to be seen. I’d be curious to see how domestic electricity consumption figures for the Christmas period compare with, say, January when the decorations have gone. It does feel slightly strange though to see all these references to cold, snowy, wintery times when the temperature is in the twenties!

In other news:

Last night I noticed in the branch of Target (it’s a superstore; think of the larger Sainsbury’s and Tesco branches but reverse the percentage of floor-space given over to groceries vs. ‘other stuff’) that they had a ‘British Aisle’ (sic!) displaying Boots’ cosmetics. Kind of nice to see some of our brands making it out here, even if they do have to use dreadful puns.

Both Brett and I were up early this morning and Brett ended up flicking through the TV channels looking for something decent to watch. We surfed into an advert promoting a treatment for genital herpes. Talk about surprising the naïve Brit! I think maybe I’m more conservative sometimes than I realise; I’ve always felt the adverts we get for thrush medication and sanitary towels to be more intimate than I care for, so to hear people talking about genital infections on TV in the country that went into a convulsion of censorship following the sight of a female nipple, seemed a little incongruous.

Finally, I came across this article via Mark Maness’ blog and felt all the better for having brought my kilt for the New Year party we’re going to. ”Land of my heart forever, Scotland the Brave!”

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fingerprints and Fettuccini

OK, so in the end, the worst I can really say about the flight is that it was boring. The seats were reasonable and neither of the babies in our section bawled enough to be properly irritating.

The formalities at DFW were interesting. We’d only filled in one Customs declaration because we were travelling together and the people on the plane had said one would be fine. When we got to immigration, before you get to the desks they have ‘helpers’ (dressed in uniforms that reminded me of nothing so much as Swiss yodellers; green felt jackets and brown hats. They looked like some kind of community volunteer group (i.e. all of pensionable age) and I expected them to burst into ‘Eidelweiss’ given half a chance.) Anyway, getting back to the plot; our ‘helper’ decreed that even though we were travelling together, because Brett had a US passport and we didn’t have the same surname, he had to fill in his own form; regardless of the fact that he’s my partner and we were travelling effectively as a family. So off he went, while I went through to be photographed and fingerprinted (because, not being an American passport holder, clearly means I am highly likely to be a criminal, if not a highly dangerous terrorist!)

Admittedly it was fairly painless. I got over it quickly enough and we were through to the land of the ‘free.’ (Am I sounding bitter tonight? Oh, well…)

It is lovely weather over here though; I was perfectly comfortable in my t-shirt and realised with dismay that I’d left my sunglasses at home. I suspect I’m going to need them.

Ali, Brett’s brother-in-law, had come to collect us and he drove us to Brett’s parents’ place where his mum was baking cookies; a pleasantly American homecoming I think. As we were sorting out all the presents, Brett realised that he’d left the bag containing all the goodies he’d bought this morning in the lounge at Gatwick. Doh! So we headed out to the local superstore in search of yet more presents.

When we came back Susan (Brett’s sister, Ali’s wife) and the kids were there, ready to set off to the family’s restaurant for dinner. They own an Italian restaurant about half an hour from the house which serves HUGE portions. I’d been caught off-guard by the portion size last time I was there, so this time I only ordered a main course. However I didn’t do myself any favours by helping out Donna and Sarah with their pizza and ended up leaving a lot of my fettuccini. I skipped dessert (yes, you read it right; I skipped dessert!)

Right now we’re back home and my consciousness is beginning to dissolve around the edges; my wrist watch says it’s 9pm, but my laptop insists it’s 3am. I suppose the fact that I’m still functioning is a good sign; probably all the late night’s recently are actually helping… even so, I think I’m going to stop writing now as I detect that I am rambling somewhat and will probably become totally incoherent shortly.

Good night.

Catching up from Dallas


Finally I have time on my hands to catch you up on what’s been happening in my life this week; I am sitting in a departure lounge at Gatwick waiting to get on a plane where I will sit for a further ten hours, so I have the time on my hands to do a bit of reflection.

This morning was a dreadfully early start; 05:30 wake-up for an 06:30 car to the airport. We didn’t get to bed until nearly 2am so, as you can imagine, I am not at my best this morning. I pity the Brett’s family who will have to deal with me at the other end of the ten hours in an economy class seat (no exit rows available, dammit!).

Brett has headed off to shop for ‘baby gifts’ for some of the younger nieces and nephews – and, I suspect, to get away from my periodically singing excerpts from the Finzi piece and now ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ which BAA are thoughtfully playing in the background to remind me of last night’s show.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here…


Tuesday was another deadly dull day at work, although I did manage to agree with my boss to take Thursday off as I am seriously unprepared for going away. Tuesday evening I was singing with the Chorus at Selfridges. I managed to get there in time to hear most of the previous set and, while the boys sounded great if you were standing nearby and could hear them, it all sounded pretty ropey through the PA as they only had eight uni-directional mic’s and not everyone was singing at the same distance from them, so some voices came over a lot stronger than others.

Some of the guys, Brett included, had already done the three previous shows that day, so the atmosphere in the ‘dressing room’ was fairly weary. There was minor concern on my part when I realised that ‘Seasons of Love’ was included on the running order; I learned the song as a Tenor and have had trouble fixing the Baritone part in my head now that I’ve changed sections. Luckily John W, Rich C & Jerry H all knew the Baritone line well enough that they were happy for me to belt out the Tenor part beside them.

The stage (a small balcony, three-quarters of the way up the atrium in Selfridges normally occupied by no more than a couple of mannequins) was a fairly tight squeeze for sixteen guys, a conductor, pianist and piano but, hey!, we’re professionals darling and we coped.

The set went fairly well from a performance point of view; I just hoped we sounded better over the PA than we had in the previous set. Either way, I came away from it with the knowledge that Selfridges were happy with us and I’d helped earn the Chorus a decent amount of money.

After the show, John & Rich joined us for a bite to eat at Wagamama. It was a nice chill-out session catching up with each other’s plans for Christmas and Chorus gossip. (It’s one of the problems with the Chorus; as you approach a show, you spend large amounts of time with the guys but, because you are focussed on rehearsing or performing, you don’t talk beyond exchanging hellos and musical notes!) After the meal we headed home to make nominal attempts at clearing the house up and organising for the trip.


Wednesday at work (well, actually, only Wednesday morning) was spent clearing the decks ready for going on leave; checking Rav has everything in hand for the year-end backups; making notes to leave him and Sid in case anything comes up on the stuff I’m working on while I’m gone; setting out-of-office notes on my phone and email. It all gives me a nice sense of closure for when I walk out of the office around 2pm and get on the Tube up to Barbican.

The Barbican is quite a nice venue; reasonably modern and with all the dressing rooms right behind the stage, so there’s no long trek from one to the other as there was in Brighton and Birmingham. The acoustic is a little dry; like Brighton, it doesn’t give you anything back and, because of where I was standing (end of the front row) I didn’t get much value out of the stage monitors, so could only hear Russell and Rich C who were standing nearby.

The tech rehearsal went relatively smoothly, the only incident was Matt V, the lighting designer, having a bit of a hissy-fit when the chorus asked him to turn off some extremely bright footlight type of things which were in our eye-line and flashing manically while we were trying to watch Charlie. He’s a good lighting tech, but also well known as a HUGE drama queen. When he’d finished throwing his toys out of the pram, the entire Chorus responded with a hugely girly ‘Ooooooooooohhhhhhhh!’ and the incident was over (and the lights off!)

[Airborne now. A nice Boeing 777, so the economy seats are bearably sized and spaced.]

The show was pretty much a runaway success; the audience was almost a capacity crowd and they were very much up for our style of show; laughing out loud at ‘Coming Out For Christmas’ and enthusiastically jumping up and down during the audience-participation ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ Our sound was good and we were very together. The only cock-up was during ‘Silent Night’ when our boy soprano pre-empted the rest of the Chorus’ by coming straight in with his closing ‘sleep in heavenly peace’ before we had a chance to bring the mood back down from ‘Gospel rock’ to ‘King’s College.’ But as ever Charlie at the piano coped fine and brought the music to a timely close. Simon, who was conducting, simply raised his eyes heavenward and gritted his teeth.

The whole ‘boy soprano’ idea seems to have been a lot of trouble; I know that Gubbay (the promoters) were not keen on us having him; probably worried about the outrage of the Middle-England crowd who can’t get their heads around the idea that gay men aren’t paedophiles. Then there was difficulty getting him to the Brighton and Birmingham shows, which ultimately didn’t happen so our own guys did the solos there. And, while he looks angelic enough for the part, his singing was perhaps not all we had hoped for. Certainly not the soaring soprano of Aled Jones which, for me, will always be associated with ‘Walking In The Air.’

I’m finding I have difficulty in picking a favourite piece out of this repertoire; I like several of them a great deal and it’s almost impossible to pick one over the other as they are all quite different from each other. The classical, almost oratorio, piece by Finzi; ‘In Terra Pax’ I enjoy because, although it is enormously long, it is a haunting and dramatic piece. I especially love the evocative Baritone opening of the canon where reach up from some tricky detailed singing into the pure descending scales of ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ Then there’s ‘Over The Skies of Yisrael’ where we have some lovely melodies and, as one of our audience pointed out, Simon R and the Small Group, bring tears to the eyes with their moving Hebrew prayer.

There is also the camper side of the repertoire too; ‘Coming Out at Christmas’ certainly seems to be a crowd-pleaser but, while amusing, it’s not my favourite; I prefer the other Small Group number; a variation on ‘Winter Wonderland’ and the lovely arrangement and staging of ‘Mad About The Boy’ – although I agree with some of the comments I’ve heard that having Rula sing it rather took the impact away in an LGMC context. It would have been much more ‘us’ if we’d had a relatively butch male compère to sing it with us.

So anyway, we gave them a good show and the audience had no hesitation in their standing ovation after ‘Bootylicious.’ What a blast!

After the show we stayed for a while to have aftershow drinks with the boys and yet again the Barbican hadn’t listened to what we told them about LGMC audiences; they only had two bar staff on and it took me twenty minutes to get served! There was the usual round of bonhomie and we had wonderful feedback from Nick B, who had also been in the audience for Brighton and was very enthusiastic about how much better we had sounded tonight.

I fear I was a little high by the end of it all, between the light dinner, show adrenaline and then the beers afterwards, I was pretty jolly as we did the rounds; flirting outrageously with both Scott L and Nick B who both gave as good as they got.


Thursday was, in theory at least, a day set aside for getting ready to fly to the States. The flat was a mess, with dishes to wash, laundry to do and general clearing-up required. Unfortunately, after the previous night’s exertions we were rather sluggish. I had a lunch appointment with Ping too which rather broke the day up, but it was good to see him. He’s been quite quiet lately; claiming he’s going into Christmas Hibernation. He’s working on developing a new property, so there was talk of some of the issues he’s facing as well as his emotional ups and downs.

After lunch, Brett and I managed to get a bit more organised and at least sort out what we are taking with us. I fear we are going to get charged excess for the case full of presents for the nephews and nieces; even after weeding out everything that wasn’t to or from us!

Then it was time to head back to the Barbican to do it all again. The notes session started earlier than planned, so we were actually a bit late and missed the warm up, but got most of the singing done. Charlie wanted to re-run a couple of the slacker numbers. The joy of a second night, though, is that these things are so much shorter than the first night; there is no tech run to do, no entries and exits to plan, so before you know it you’re off munching on sandwiches waiting for the call to warm-up.

Tonight’s show was both better and worse than last night’s. Better, because several people I spoke to (and myself) got the choreography to both the finale numbers down pat (at LONG last!) but worse because in a couple of places we were more relaxed and let the diction slip. My sister and Andy were in the audience (front row, staring straight at me!) and she commented on that. I particularly noticed the cut-offs in ‘Silent Night’ were hopelessly ragged; everyone was in full ‘gospel choir’ mode and not paying any attention to the conductor.

While the audience felt a bit more staid than last night’s, we did get them warmed up in the end and we had another standing ovation. It was also another almost full house which, by my rough-and-ready reckoning means we’ve entertained 5,000 people in the last week. Wehay!

After the show, we had one beer in the bar and made very quick rounds to wish everyone well and a happy Christmas, before accepting a lift home from Rosie & Andy. Rosie was thick with cold but wanted food on the way, so we stopped off at KFC and picked up a bargain bucket or somesuch. They came in to Wimbledon to eat with us before returning to Camden. They are driving to our parents tomorrow around about the same time we are heading to the airport. In the end the food served us well because Brett and I were up for at least another couple of hours before we were sorted.


To bed at 2ish; alarm at 05:30; drag ourselves out of bed, shower, close and lock cases and it’s already 6:30 and time to go. En route to Gatwick I started feeling queasy and was worried I’d picked up whatever my sister had been suffering from last night, but in the end it was just hunger. A decent breakfast sorted me out.

So here I sit, just over halfway through the flight now, having eaten lunch, watched a movie, slept a little and listened to some music. It’s now 10:40am Dallas time (16:40GMT) so we have about three and a half hours to landing and I haven’t yet lost my rag. Maybe I’ll survive with my sanity in tact. That said, I am definitely feeling the wear of recent weeks; my eyes were really filling up during one of the scenes of ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’. When I start getting emotional swings, that’s a sign that I need more sleep. I’ve also been listening nostalgically to the latest Chorus CD (i.e. last year’s Christmas repertoire), rerunning the melodies from this year’s repertoire in my head and getting all gooey about Mark G & Chris M who are signing their civil partnership today.

I actually felt rather guilty last night as they are doing it purely as a legal formality, with no fuss or ceremony, and had been keeping it fairly quiet, but I (and several others, to be fair) mentioned it to Greg B backstage and he included them on the announcement he made just before we sang ‘Something Inside So Strong.’ When pointed out and applauded by two-thousand people, Chris blushed bright red and Mark just gave a big smile… which I learned later from the guy standing next to him was him gritting his teeth while swearing fluently… As it happens, they are going to be in Texas at the same time as us (Chris is Texan), but unfortunately our itineraries don’t meet up.

Anyway, it looks like it’s going to be a pleasant climate in Dallas. I checked the forecast on the BBC and the next five days’ weather varies between Sunday (High of 16C and low of 6C) and Tuesday (High of 25 and low of 14) so I haven’t packed a winter coat, just enough t-shirts and sweatshirts to layer if needed.

I don’t think we really have much planned at this stage; we are in Dallas for Christmas and at some point will hook-up for lunch with Alex W, whom we got to know at Montreal last year and has since moved from Kansas City to Dallas. Then on Thursday we’re off to Austin to visit Rich M and some of Brett’s old haunts. We are going to a charity ball/dinner thing with Rich for New Year ($75 per plate apparently, eek!) so I have got the full highland rig packed to dazzle Austin social set. We will probably swing via San Antonio on the way back to Dallas on the 2nd of January so Brett can show me his Alma Mater.

Still another three hours to landing. Hmm.

5:30pm: Made it okay. Now about to head off to the family's restaurant for dinner before I wilt.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Politics of Singing

A really dull day at work. After feeling fairly energised after the show and now I’m recovered from the cold, going back to work was such a depressing experience; wading through the email that had accumulated (I really must remember to put my Out-Of-Office on next time I’m ill!) and the fact that there was pretty much nothing interesting to do afterwards. I was basically watching the clock today.

Selfridges didn’t help matters either; small groups from the Chorus are doing twelve half-hour shows in their atrium over Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I was on the list to perform at the 7pm one today. Last week we heard they wanted to move it to 5:45pm, which we agreed. Then at 4pm this afternoon I got a call from Brett, who is doing all four of them today, saying they’d asked to move the show forward again to 5pm. Because I was off work at the end of last week, I hadn’t been able to arrange cover for my absence properly, so to be leaving even earlier would really have been taking the micky! Charlie reckoned they’d be able to cope with only three baritones though, so I dropped out. Still, I was pretty hacked-off about it as I really enjoyed the Selfridge’s gigs last year and it's a great excuse to go on a spending spree because you are right there in the gay shopping Mecca! But they are the ones paying the piper – and paying us well, I must admit – so I guess I should just be glad there were enough choir boys there to put on a good show for them and look forward to my next chance to sing (tomorrow at 7pm, if you happen to be anywhere near Oxford Street!)

The Chorus rehearsal tonight was quite good fun; it was mostly notes and polishing of some rough edges. There was a slightly bizarre meeting after the tea break though. I think I mentioned that the programme was shortened slightly in Brighton. Since then there has been an avalanche of mail from members asking for the Coventry Carol to be reinstated in place of one or other of the remaining pieces. There’s also been a certain amount of grousing about the amount of ‘backing singing’ that the Chorus is doing, as opposed to ‘being the star’ of the show and I think the production team were concerned about morale. So we had a meeting to vent the issues (actually most of the venting had already been done online) and after the break the decision was announced; we are reinstating Coventry Carol and dropping O Magnum Mysterium which, although I personally love it, is apparently quite unpopular with the performers and, since it is a Small Group number, its loss pacifies those who think the Small Group is doing too high a proportion of the singing. Hey ho. That’s politics for you. At least now I think the issue is put to bed and we can get on with the singing.

Got an early start tomorrow, so I can finish work early to get to the Selfridges’ gig.

Early Morning Snippets

Checking the weather outlook for Dallas, it’s currently showing a variation between a high of 4°C and a low of -1°C tomorrow and a high of 20°C and a low of 9°C for Friday (the day we arrive there.) As if packing for Christmas and New Year away wasn’t enough of a headache without having to plan for two seasons’ weather…

I tried my kilt on last night in preparation for the New Year’s Eve celebrations we are attending in Austin. I felt like a Victorian lady being laced into her corset; I had to get Brett to help me with the buckles. And there I was thinking I’d lost weight lately. Nope.

I saw Condoleeza Rice on Meet The Press yesterday ducking questions about which law empowers George Bush to intercept communications without judicial approval. The best she could offer was repeating ‘I am not a lawyer’ and waffling about how terrorism was different from 'ordinary' crime so the President was only using every means possible to defend the US. Is it just me or, when laws can be ignored because the President believes they stop him doing what he thinks is best, is that called a Dictatorship?

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Today has mostly been spent relaxing after yesterday’s exertions. I cleared some of my email backlog and washed up the accumulated crockery (oh, for a decent dishwasher!) This evening I headed over to Putney for a couple of hours to hear one of my work colleagues, Jon M, play in his band at a venue there. Despite the sound mix being rather poor (could hardly catch the vocals over the music) they sounded rather good, so much so that I put my name down for their mailing list.

Came back to watch a drama about Edward & Mrs Simpson on Tivo which treated the Duchess of Windsor rather more favourably than others I have seen. Downloaded some of the pics of yesterday’s concert which were, alas, all taken from the rear of the auditorium, so not the finest shots of us in action.

Got to go to work again tomorrow. Eek!

The Brighton Show

Sunday morning (actually Sunday afternoon now, but these things should be relative.) We slept late before rising and having a tasty fry-up for breakfast. I’m now lazing on the sofa, warmed by the winter sun streaming in through the window and looking back on last night’s concert at The Dome in Brighton.

We arrived in good time at the theatre but, as always seems to be the case, the tech setup was running behind schedule, so we were late doing our soundchecks and run-through. The result of this was that we had lighting riggers pushing scaffolding around stage throughout the top-and-tailing and only had half an hour between the end of the run and the call to warm up; ‘dinner’ was made up of about fifteen Pringles and a Vocalzone pastille as I changed into costume in our super-heated dressing room.

When we arrived I had looked out from the stage and my first thought was that it looked like a small, intimate theatre but apparently it had a capacity of 1,800. We filled it to about two-thirds I hear, but it certainly felt full enough. The downside was the acoustic which, in stark contrast to Birmingham, gave you nothing back on stage. Apparently the audience could hear every word, but it felt like you were the only one singing and we depended a lot on the foldback (which wasn’t great!) to hear each other. In fact the sound setup generally left a lot to be desired; Rula’s mic wasn’t on for her welcome (fortunately her voice and the acoustic meant that she seemed to be heard by everyone); one of the stage mic’s failed just before our ‘Divas’ came on stage to lead the congregational carols and then the sound guy cued the track for Bootylicious way too early and, instead of stopping it, just started the track again so we had a very confused, messy start to that number.

Apart from that, though, I think the show went better than Birmingham. The running order was changed slightly and some pieces shortened to make the whole show shorter and the first half brighter (and easier on our feet by moving the Finzi up the order!) Personally both my words and choreography were sharper.

I didn’t spot Janice in the audience and only spotted Rich because I knew where he was sitting. We caught up with him briefly after the show, before the coach left for home, and he and his guests seemed to have really enjoyed it. We reflected on how long it had been since we’d seen each other and agreed it would be too long. We really ought to get down to Brighton more often. Rich is always offering us use of his spare room and I think it could be a very cheap and enjoyable long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of town.

The journey home was uneventful; I spent most of it sitting on the back row of the coach watching people animatedly chatting and joking. I had a lovely contented feeling all the way home; partly from the sense of a job well done and partly from observing just what a great social group the Chorus is. Towards the end of the trip, Brett came back and snuggled with me and we listened to Kander & Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman and watched the lights of South London slip by the windows. Very cosy.

We finally made it home around 1am, which wasn’t that much earlier than we got back from Birmingham. It was a bitterly cold night, so we threw another duvet on the bed and I crawled straight into it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

En Route to Brighton

So, here I am, sitting on another uncomfortable coach. This one's heading south though, to Brighton.
Today's trip is going closer to plan than Wednesday's did. I was in better condition for a start; the cold hasn't completely cleared but so long as I don't do any sprinting or heavy lifting I think I'll be okay. We made it to the South Bank in time for a leisurely lunch before departing and, while running slightly late, the journey is going smoothly.
I knew that Rich H was coming to see the show (he lives in Brighton) with some of his friends, but Rosie rang me up this morning to tell me that Janice M, one of our old school crowd, was going to be in the audience too! I don't know if we'll get time to see her after the show, but it's nice to know she'll be there. First-timers at our concerts are usually very enthusiastic afterwards, so maybe she'll be at some future show where we have more time afterwards.
Right, blogging on a mobile phone is killing my thumb - even with predictive text switched on - so I'll sign off now.

Friday, December 16, 2005


I’m feeling better today, but that cold is still hanging in there despite plenty of fluids, vitamin C, warmth and rest. I went with Brett down to his gym this evening and spent half an hour in the hot tub and by the time I got home again I was feeling rough and in need of a sit down. I’m hoping that another good night’s sleep and a relatively easy day tomorrow will get it out of my system; I want to be on stage in Brighton tomorrow night.

Today has been mostly spent watching TV. Brett went out shopping and came back with the Christmas edition of the Radio Times (which annoyingly doesn’t cover New Year this year!) so all of our Christmas TV is programmed into Tivo for when we get back. He also bought two Christmas presents for me which are now sitting under the tree. I am very frustrated; I suspect I know what might be in one of them, but the other is shaped (and sounds) like a VHS cassette and I’m racking my brains to think what he might buy me that isn’t available on DVD. I’m assuming it isn’t porn, as I’ll be opening it in front of his parents, and I don’t know of any recordings of Chorus events that I might want that would only be on VHS and any movies or old TV series I might enjoy are almost certainly out on DVD...

I am intrigued. Watch this space in ten days for the ‘reveal.’

There has been a lot of positive feedback from our Birmingham show on Wednesday, although personally I think there were quite a few rough edges. The small group sounded very good though; they do a piece called O Magnum Mysterium in which their voices blended so perfectly it almost brought tears to my eyes. They also back Rula Lenska in ‘Mad About The Boy,’ which for some reason I love – partly for the staging and partly for the harmony of their sound I think.

My own personal performance was passable, although I fumbled a couple of lines that I should know very well by now and, even though I mouthed my way through the worst parts of the congregational carols to save my voice, it still gave out during Bootylicious.

The venue was fabulous though; a two-thousand seater hall with a very easy acoustic. We hardly had to project at all, the sound just carried. It even had a massive pipe organ, which Charlie put to good use during some of the folk carols. The interior décor was a little bit strange though… looked like it had been inspired by a 1950’s American Diner. It wasn’t quite all red vinyl and chrome, but it looked like that might have been a distant relative…

The parents certainly seemed to enjoy themselves though. We got to see them briefly both before and after the show despite the tight transport schedule, so I was happy on the way home.

For those of you who can’t get tickets to one of our concerts, a live recording of the show will be broadcast by Gaydar Radio between 12noon and 2pm GMT on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


They say you have to suffer for your art. I’m not sure it was meant in quite this way, but I’ve certainly been suffering today for my decision to go on stage last night. I seem to have lost most of the day either sleeping, or in that weird, slightly dislocated place your head gets into when you are really sick. I’ve begun to regain touch with reality this evening, but it’s clear I still have a cold, albeit no longer one that could be described as ‘bad.’

Have been taking drugs all day; that’s how wretched it’s been. I am taking another day off tomorrow to hopefully make sure I’m on fine form for Saturday. Now I need to sleep some more.

One Down, Three To Go

Just got home from the show. It was a creditable performance but we can do better. After getting comfortably through the show though, my cold is back with a vengeance so I’ll leave the full review until tomorrow. Right now I need to get more water into me and go to bed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

En Route to Birmingham

So here I am sitting on the coach to Birmingham and, for the first time this week, have time to compose a post. This week has largely revolved around work and choir. We’ve been home to sleep, but that’s about it. I’m starting work at 8:30am this week and it looks like I won’t get home before 11pm for at least the first three days – probably more like 1am tonight!

Monday I was rather wary of at work, as there was potential for there being a personnel issue I’d have to deal with, but in the end it turned into a non-incident and I was able to relax again. There was the regular Monday night rehearsal, with the added twist that we were rehearsing with the band for the first time and it was the ‘dress rehearsal.’ I was expecting us to be inspected on our costumers, as is the usually case, but we weren’t, so I hope that the non-standard stuff that people were wearing doesn’t show up in the dressing rooms tonight when it’s too late for them to be changed!

The rehearsal itself went fairly well, although ‘Freedom’ is still a mess. I know the words, I just can’t remember them fast enough on stage (it’s a very fast-paced number.) I think I need to run through them a few more times so they are more instinctive and I can sing them without thinking. I was also a bit worried that some of the choreography that I’d been fine with at earlier rehearsals suddenly seemed to be escaping me. Eek!

On the good side, the next morning Charlie, our Musical Director, sent round an email telling us that one of the more wordy folk carols was being dropped. Partly for ‘balance’ reasons (i.e. the first half had too many miserable songs in it and not enough Christmas cheer) and partly for words (i.e. a fair number of people didn’t know the third and fourth verses!) Still, no loss as far as I’m concerned.

Tuesday was quite a short day at work as we had our team’s Christmas lunch. We left the office at 12:30 and didn’t get back until gone 4pm. We had a lovely meal (the tenderest venison I think I’ve ever tasted!) at the Institute of Civil Engineers restaurant on Great Geroge Street in Westminster. Afterwards we went onto a pub were Sid bought us all a drink and relaxed for a further hour before heading back to the office. It turned out that nothing much had happened while we’d been gone, so we shuffled papers around our desks and generally didn’t work too hard until it was time to go home. Or in my case go to another rehearsal…

I was feeling a bit ropey as a result of the heavy meal and wine, so having a defective train on the line between me and the rehearsal venue didn’t improve my mood. Still I got there in plenty of time and managed to scoff a bagel and a pastry before we started work. Tonight we didn’t have the band (or the costume) but we did have Rula, who seems to be enjoying working with us more and more as the rehearsals go on. It was another full run of the show tonight, although we were only topping and tailing numbers and spending more time on the links, choreography and words where they needed addressing.

Unfortunately the slight sore throat I’ve been nursing for a couple of days matured into the beginnings of a real cold and, having gone in feeling ‘a bit ropey’ I came out feeling like death warmed-up. I even had to step out of one of the more energetic numbers as I feared I may collapse.

A good night’s sleep cleared my head, but still left me feeling pretty worn. In the end I decided going into work for the sake of half a day was a bad idea and simply slept. (After having chivvied Brett into doing housework and going out to buy stuff to give my parents tonight! The man is a hero!)

At about 11:30 I got up and started heading into town to join a hundred of my closest friends who were taking the coach up to Birmingham. More train problems meant that the 30-minute journey became nearer an hour, so I had little time to eat before we were due to depart. In the end it didn’t matter though, as the coach was half-an-hour late…

So here I sit squeezed into one of those seats designed for an average person from the 1950’s (which is when I believe was the last time they updated the ‘average person’ dimensions used by people who build planes, trains and automobiles!)

Am fairly relaxed and feeling reasonably with it. I should be up to giving a creditable performance tonight, even if it flattens me for the rest of the week.

Maybe more later.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wish-Lists: Addendum

While I was on a roll with online Christmas shopping, I vaguely thought that I might try buying gifts for my friends as well as my family and searched Amazon for their wish-lists. Bizarrely I couldn’t find them for most of my friends. The only name that popped up was John W but alas of the eleven ‘John Ws’ listed in London, mine was not one of the six that had included identifying information…

Finally did I mention that we decorated the flat yesterday? Anyway, for those of you who won’t get to see it (which is everyone now I think, apart from myself, Brett and my sister) there are a couple of photos of the better bits here.

Wish-Lists: Heaven or Hell?

I did my Christmas shopping today. I did it all online. I took a deep breath and accepted the fact that Amazon were going to charge me £3 for wrapping each DVD and justified it in terms of time, stress, train fares and coffee-stops saved. In the space of three hours I managed to shop for Brett, my sister, my mum and Owen; everything is gift-wrapped and on its way and I am totally relaxed and sipping a cup of (homemade!) coffee. I’ll shop for my dad as soon as he gives me a wish-list of things he wants.

I consider wish-lists a kind of double-edged sword though; they make it easier for the modern cash-rich, time-poor consumer to buy you the things you actually want, but they also remove most of the joy from gift-giving as everything you receive is more or less ‘expected;’ there are no surprises. I sometimes feel myself mentally going down my wish-list, ticking things off as Christmas morning progresses. Surely that’s not how it’s supposed to be? There is no joyful surprise in that.

Years ago, a doll or a wooden model train would be any child’s dream come true. Nowadays there is so much variety on offer that you have to be told what people want or you have very little chance of getting it right – especially as we are often more distant in space and interests from our nearest and dearest compared to people only fifty years ago. For example, I had no idea that my mum was getting interested in organic gardening and thinking of starting to grow her own food again; I would never have thought of looking for the books on her wish-list.

So why do we buy gifts at all? If it’s such a hassle to do and the recipients aren’t getting any pleasant surprises from our efforts, why do we do it? If it’s not for the joy of the recipient, is it for our own happiness? Are we maybe trying to buy love? Or are Christmas and birthdays now just acute cases of runaway commercialisation? I certainly spend more on gifts for other people than I would rationally spend on ‘gifts’ for myself – and I can afford it, whereas you hear of many who can’t but are ‘guilted’ into running up debts, because these days ‘doing without’ just isn’t an option.

I’m not sure of the logic behind that – but then neither am I sure of the logic of buying Christmas and birthday gifts any longer. Should I become a latter-day Scrooge, at least to the extent of dispensing with the commercialisation but keeping up with the social aspect, or should I hold to the tradition (of reaching for the credit card)?

Or am I just living in some miserable, secluded (deluded?) world totally different from your experience of Christmas and giving gifts? Answers in the Comments section please!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lion, Witch and Wardrobe

So after a delightful dinner last night, we had a lazy morning this morning. Brett wrote the last of his US-bound Christmas cards while I did some research and money work.

Rosie came over mid-morning. Having just moved house, the sending of Christmas cards is the ideal chance to kill two birds with one stone and she wanted to print out her change of address notes.

Brett and I had volunteered for a photo shoot with the Chorus this afternoon; one of the gay magazines is doing a twelve-days-of-Christmas feature and they wanted ‘ten gay boys singing’. We had been told to allow an hour for the session but in the end it was over in five minutes so we all went and had a coffee in the nearby Pret and caught up on the Chorus gossip.

We had talked of seeing The Chronicles of Narnia in Leicester Square after the shoot but there was a massive queue, so we gave up on the idea and booked tickets for later this evening in Wimbledon. In the end neither Ping nor Rowan (who had previously expressed an interest could make it there/then) so we just booked for ourselves.

We had a wander around Soho and up to Regent Street before heading home, making a nominal attempt at Christmas shopping but neither of us could find what we wanted. The centre of town was virtually one solid crowd of people. The worst part of it was tripping over the tourists every few yards as they stopped to take photographs of the Christmas lights!

The movie turned out to be a fairly good re-telling of the book. From what I had heard I had been expecting some serious re-writing into a religious icon when in fact it is no more or less of an allegory than the original book is. It is a good visualisation, although somewhat derivative of the Lord of the Rings movies in that respect. I didn’t check the credits, but I suspect Weta did a lot of it. Some of the back-projection was pretty poor though.

Tomorrow has to be serious Christmas shopping online I think.

Finally; I was sent a rather bizarre link by Chris C in Dallas. See what you make of it, but as I read the story I was reminded of the decadence preceding the fall of Rome

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Making A Meal Of It

Had a rather full day today: Work was no more or less busy than of late but I was booked-up to have lunch with Ping, which ran to an hour and a half in the end (well, I didn’t have anything pressing to get back to) and then had a call from Rosie who sounded very down. She had waited in all day for the guy from Sky to come and fit the dish in her new place, when he arrived (circa. 4pm) he only stayed a few minutes before rushing off before his van got clamped by the over-zealous local parking attendants. Rosie was not impressed, to say the least! It’ll be a week before they can get another engineer out.

Had a few thoughts about the utility (or not) of 3G video-phones on my way home.

After work I went round to Rosie’s with a bottle of wine, fixed her DVD player which had been misbehaving, and ate comfort food with her. The new flat is not a bad size, but it is badly in need of decoration and a bit of atmosphere. At the moment it’s very dreary and depressing. It won’t take much – probably just some polyfilla and paint would make a massive difference – but when it is done it will be a lovely place; panoramic views over south London, all the way to the river!

Also had a bit of jolly fun with Sainsburys today. They (and Woolworths) have taken DVDs of Jerry Springer, The Opera off their shelves, after receiving some complaints from a Christian pressure group. The decision was reported by the BBC earlier today and later on, a copy of an email from Equity came around and set the Chorus’ mailing list alight.

It is a truly daft decision, one which appears even more ridiculous when their standard response to email complaints about it states; “As a retailer, we feel we should offer our customers a choice of what to buy.” The cover of the DVD is not intrinsically offensive, so presumably the “tiny fringe Christian group” responsible finds the mere existence of the DVD offensive. Well, I find lots of things about certain fringe Christian groups offensive too, so I’m enjoying the set-to with Sainsburys & Woolies about the issue.

I spoke to Owen this evening. He is not having a fun time of it at work at the moment…

Out for dinner with eight or so friends tomorrow night, so I’m looking forward to that as I won’t be seeing any of them over Christmas/New Year.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Another Al-Qaeda Recruiting Poster

Reading the news today, Condoleezza Rice’s statement about US interrogation techniques not only failed to reassure me but actually made me more suspicious about the whole thing. If it’s all legal and above board why circumvent the extradition process and effectively kidnap your suspect? If it’s all legal, why not do it in the US instead of flying them away from the jurisdiction of American Courts? Then of course there is the US administration’s definition of torture, which seems to be far, far narrower than what you or I would call torture. And finally, no denial whatsoever about the CIA maintaining prisons in out-of-the-way nations for ‘interrogation’ without reference to international law.

Do the ends justify the means? Is it still the Land of the Free if the law only protects some people and you can abduct and torture with impunity those who you suspect of being against your way of life? Is it just me or is that the modus operandi of the Secret Police in the Banana Republic of your choice?

All Change

Things are getting quiet at work as everyone winds down ready for Christmas, so another rather dull day. Did some work on my words on the train this morning and then snuck into the Comms Room (the only place you can really be unobserved in our office) with my laptop at lunchtime and ran through the choreography video a couple of times.

This evening we were invited around to see Rosie’s new flat and have dinner at a restaurant she knows nearby. It turns out that moving her 42” TV was part of the bargain though, so that delayed the start of the evening proper for a while. The restaurant turned out to be an unpretentious French restaurant called Chez Manny’s which had delicious food. I can see why Rosie’s friend took her there so often!

Brett is worrying that he is older than the new Conservative leader, David Cameron... I fear a Rubicon has been crossed and he is now just waiting to die.

Monday, December 05, 2005


There are a couple of landmarks to note today.

Firstly this is the first day that Civil Partnerships are legal in the UK. The BBC article noting the fact is rather bizarrely titled ‘Gay Weddings become law in the UK’ when in fact I think they really mean ‘Gay Weddings become legal in the UK’. Making them mandatory would, I suspect, have provoked a bit of an outcry.

Nevertheless this law is a great achievement; gay couples are now legally recognised in the same way as straight couples; another institutionalised discrimination removed. I raise a glass tonight to one of the government’s more worthwhile achievements.

The other landmark is that today is the anniversary of the first post I made to this blog. In the past my journals have tended to tail off after a couple of weeks, but when I go back and read them now I always wish I had managed to continue them. They record periods of time when I was a different person. Not dramatically different, but they are snapshots of me growing over the years.

Having an audience has had the desired effect and kept me at my writing. Thank you all (you crazy people!) for reading regularly and giving me the ego-massage that keeps me at it!

As for a substantive post to mark the occasion, I’m afraid I don’t have one ready and it’s too late to knock one up by getting outraged at something, so I’ll leave you with the daily trivia: Work was dull. Choir was fun. OMG! The first concert’s in ten days, I’m on the front row and there are still lots of words I don’t know… Eeek! Good job I have a wonderful man to help keep me sane.