Monday, 15 September 2014

Caution resolved

I didn't sleep a wink last night. I lay in bed tossing and turning with a busy head, periodically going into the sitting room and watching a bit of telly before going back to bed again. I watched with horror as the hours flitted past. I saw 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am, and then finally fell asleep watching breakfast telly, whilst the sun rose outside. Jet lag is a strange thing isn't it?

I've spent the day hustling. I have work to take me through to the end of the year, but will obviously need something beyond that time. There are various ideas in discussion, and even more projects which I am trying to get off the ground on the basis that only one in ten projects in this industry actually flies. I seem to spend much of my life creating pitching documents. It's a hazard of the job.

Fiona came to see us late this afternoon and we walked in the early autumn sunshine up to Highgate Village and down through the Heath to Kentish Town where we had a meal at Stingray.

The Heath looked rather glorious. The sun was setting into a milky cloud, and streaks of pastel orange and yellow were stretching across the horizon. At one point a sun corona appeared behind a cloud, like a little blurred rainbow. We stopped for a while and watched swimmers bathing in the men's pond. There was something about the soft, warm light which made everything look rather inviting. I wanted to be in the water myself until Fiona pointed out how cold it would have been.

We had pasta and potato skins in Stingray, and then walked up Dartmouth Park Hill and back home to watch the new drama about Cilla
Black, which we all enjoyed rather a lot.

I suspect I will sleep well tonight based on how utterly tired I am. We heard from our lovely commissioning editor at Channel 4 about the iTunes "caution" on our wedding film. He was incredibly fast to act, and horrified at what had happened. It actually turns out that the re-arrival of the warning message came as a result of an admin error on Channel 4's part. Apparently a new rule means that all shows with a 15 rating need to be listed with a caution, but for some reason all PG rated content was mistakenly also issued with a caution. Our film was rated PG (Channel 4 reserve U for their children's programmes) so when the error was pointed out, the caution was lifted.

Thanks to everyone who tweeted on our behalf. Channel 4 have  apologised profusely and John Hay, our commissioner, has pointed out to those responsible how genuinely destructive an error like that could have been.

So all is sorted. Hurrah!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

iTunes-a phobia

Those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will notice that we found out this evening that Our Gay Wedding the Musical is being sold on iTunes with a "caution." A little digging suggests that "caution" in iTunes terms means that the film they're selling may not be suitable for children...

I find this both offensive and quite shocking, not least because I happen to know that the film initially went on sale with the same caution, and that Channel 4 successfully lobbied iTunes for its removal. This warning has subsequently re-appeared.

Plainly, in a film with no swearing and no scenes of a sexual nature, the only thing which could be considered inappropriate about the film is that it portrays two gay men getting married, which, in my view, is exactly the sort of thing which children SHOULD be viewing if we're going to bring them up in a liberal society. The fact that iTunes have decided to "caution" the film can only really be described as homophobic.

I am deeply offended by this, and have tweeted them demanding an explanation.

One of my friends on Facebook points out that some people might not WANT to watch Our Gay Wedding the Musical because not everyone likes gay people. This is of course true, but I would have thought the title itself would be enough to put these people off. It's also an invalid argument to suggest that something which people simply might not like is something which requires a caution. Some people don't like black people, but the Cosby show doesn't come with a warning! That would be deeply inappropriate.

Anyway, we went to bed at 1am last night and woke up thirteen hours later at 2pm today. This was not just surprising, but a little worrying because we had a dinner date with Jem and Ian! How is it possible to have slept for so long? I don't think I've slept in this long since I was a teenager. Actually, I remember once waking up when I lived in Tufnell Park after it had got dark, which was one of the most surreal experiences.

We finally arrived at Ian and Jem's an hour late but we were greeted with the most delightful food; a goat's cheese quiche and a beautiful chocolate mousse. Jem certainly knows how to cook. The company was rather lovely as well. We met an Australian opera singer called Catherine and her charming husband and daughter.

Anyway. Feel free to contact iTunes (@iTunesmusic) on twitter, if you feel similarly confused by their decision!



Saturday, 13 September 2014

Jingoism

Today has been something of a wash-out. Much as I'm pretty sure I still have jet-leg, I confess to having slept pretty solidly for 12 hours last night, waking up periodically through the night after experiencing a series of vivid dreams. In one of them, my mother was suggesting I wore a suitcase full of smart clothes from the 1990s, which were all box-shouldered and shiny.

I drove in the late morning to Brent Cross and got stuck in traffic which made me re-route and eventually lose my way. I wanted to buy a copy of the film Milk, which is about Harvey Milk. I don't know why I bothered. I had thought finding the film would be a needle-in-a-haystack scenario, what I didn't expect was that finding a shop which sold ANY form of DVD was the futile search. It would appear that no-one buys their DVDs or CDs in shops anymore, which I think is a desperate shame.

I came home and watched a lot of telly, falling asleep in front of The Queen, which struck me as a rather silly, somewhat pointless film. Who can be sure what was going through the Queen's head when Diana died, and more importantly, who cares? I have never been a fan of actors playing real-life figures when they're still alive. Everything feels like conjecture and nothing seems that believable... You can't help but wonder if the Queen herself watched it, and sat wondering what on earth was going on!

I got sucked into watching The Last Night of the Proms, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I always do if I'm honest. I love a bit of jingoism, and who could fail not to be stirred by Jerusalem, or, indeed Benjamin Britten's take on the National Anthem, which is the first time I've ever semi-enjoyed that terrible piece of mush. It upset me a little to think that this could be the last time we get to celebrate the UK in this manner. This particular night always makes me feel extremely moved and very proud to be British. Actually, one of the reasons why I think Scotland is contemplating going it alone, is that we never get enough opportunities to celebrate our special union, and seeing people in the different parks around the country waving Welsh Dragons and St Andrew's Saltires made me suddenly aware of the fact that we have something here which we are duty bound to protect.

Actually, what this county needs is further devolution, so Yorkshire people and Cornish people and Midlanders can all feel proud and noticed and, above all, responsible for their respective corners of this wonderful country. And then we all need to get on with not feeling guilty for having had the Empire and the Crusades and slavery, and enjoy being the country which excels in all the things that the rest of the world envies; the arts, high fashion, pharmaceuticals and IT. I think the time has come for us to relish the brand and become Britain again. Come on Scotland. What do you say?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Rinsy Willis

The journey from LA to London was a deeply gruelling one. I've never been a good flyer, and sometimes night flights send me into a state of apoplexy. It was desperately frustrating; literally every time I fell asleep, I got the feeling that the aeroplane was listing or diving, and woke up with a start, grabbing Nathan's arm. I've done this sort of thing before. Actually I remember doing it repeatedly to Fiona the last time I flew back from San Fran. God help me if I ever go to Australia.

So basically I'm a quivering wreck and feel like death, but it's all been worth it. We've had the most awesome honeymoon.

We tubed it back to Highgate, cursing at the intolerable length of the journey, but returned to find the most beautiful present waiting on our stairs. A card from lovely Abbie welcoming us home, and with the card, a bag of choice groceries; two baked potatoes, a tin of beans, some cheese and a packet of cookies. It is, without question, one of the most touching and thoughtful gifts I have ever received.

We also returned to a spotlessly tidy house. Cindy, who'd stayed on in the house later than us, had made everything look beautiful.

That, with all the wonderful messages we received when things went wrong in San Fran, and we feel like the most loved couple in the world.

Right. Time to catch up on Bake Off with a pair of baked potatoes...

The San Fran dream

I'm currently on an American Airlines flight which is winging its way high above the arid mountains of California from San Fran to LA. These internal American flights are curious affairs, which feel rather like British bus journeys. People bring their own food with them. Some have even come equipped with takeaway meals. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase budget airlines. The stewards are all grumpy gits and the air is thick with the stench of potato chips and Haribo. One child is eating sweeties which are "happy cola" flavoured. God knows how many E numbers she's chowing down on, but I reckon someone's gonna get a sugar high and then crash before this flight is done. She's already laughing like an addict. She'll be checking herself into the Betty Ford clinic before the week is out.

We went into a bookshop on Market Street today and were greeted by the sound of Holst's Planets Suite. It felt rather prescient to be hearing something so quintessentially English on the last day of our American adventure. To add another layer of brilliance, the movement which was playing was Jupiter, the main theme of which is, of course, I Vow to Thee My Country, otherwise known as Thaxted; written in and named after the town where my parents live. And what a tune that is! I wonder if I'll ever write a tune that good.

We sat outside Starbucks on Castro and 18th for old times' sake and met a ballet dancer with eyes the colour of forget-me-nots. He'd come from Russia via Jamaica and wanted to open a dance school for young people. We couldn't tell if he was odd or just Russian. I think he was probably also a rent boy.

A car was illegally parked outside the cafe and a traffic warden sidled over. Instead of crudely slapping a ticket on the windscreen with a sense of desperate glee (as I'm sure would have happened in London), he took the time to ask every single person sitting outside the cafe whether the car was theirs. When the owner finally appeared, the traffic warden ushered him on his way without the ticket, which he'd already written out. In my view this is exactly how traffic wardens should behave. Everyone deserves at least a chance to move their car.

A man in his thirties arrived with a beautiful black dog. One assumes they were homeless. The man left the dog with the Russian dancer and went into the Starbucks to get  himself a glass of water, which he shared with the dog. After a few minutes, he entered what can only be described as a drugs-related episode, which I assume was related to the can of spray paint he was holding in his hand. He started sweating profusely whilst shaking, moaning and banging his head with his hands.  Eventually the panic subsided and he fell asleep, only to be woken up by Starbucks staff who informed him he could only stay if he bought himself a drink. He picked his broken body off the chair and disappeared with the dog.

And there it was: the flip side of the San Franciscan free-loving, hippy-drippy dream. People come here, and, encouraged by the Castro-Haight vibe, live decadent, irresponsible, sun-drenched lives. But then it catches them. Bang! And they're nothing but relics. Their pace of life has slowed to a stand still, they're unable to function in everyone else's reality. Unable to move elsewhere, unable to find a job, they remain in the Castro or the Haight because it's the only place they don't feel like freaks, the only place where their sense of normality is mirrored by others. Anywhere else in the world, they'd probably be hospitalised. And they know it.

There's a mobile dangling from a lamppost on 18th street. Made from a bicycle wheel, it spins in endless circles, buffeted by the wind. Suspended from the spokes of the wheels are a series of action men dressed up in camp costumes. Some are figure skating, others are ballroom dancing, some are placed in suggestive sexual positions. For me, the mobile sums up the entire lifestyle here. A sort of wonderful, beautiful, relaxed bubble, which eats itself and ultimately leads nowhere.

Our San Franciscan honeymoon has been rewarding, exciting, remarkable, intense. It will never leave us. But ultimately it's time to head back to the real world, before we're sucked into the bottomless whirlpool!!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Lush

Our last full day in San Francisco was just what last days of holidays should be. Quiet, relaxed, drifty. We had nowhere to be. No time constraints. Just a day to simply be in this beautiful city. And Nathan was feeling well again! How could things have been any more delightful.

Our Bed and Breakfast is delightful. We had breakfast in the little kitchen with an older straight couple from Australia and a lovely pair of queens on their own honeymoon from the UK.

It took them about two minutes of chatter to recognise us. "It's you isn't it?" The English one said, "who?" Said his Scottish partner. "The gay musical wedding couple!" "Oh my God, we have your wedding on our Sky planner. It was so moving. Your mothers' duet was exquisitely moving." And so on. It felt very special to be recognised like this on our honeymoon, especially after the painful nonsense of the last few days.

We left our lodgings and took ourselves along the length of the Haight, drifting into some of the second hand record shops in search of ABBA singles, and up to Haight Ashbury, land of the hippies, where I bought myself a flat cap, which I'll no doubt lose. I can't even count the flat caps I've worked my way through in my life, but no autumn is complete without one, so this one can be the next!

We ambled back to The Castro, deciding to sit outside Starbucks and attract as many wonderful locals as we could, encouraging them to sit down with us and tell us their life stories. First up, and by far the most entertaining, was Chuck. Chuck was in his eighties. He'd been in the military just after the Second World War and lucked out, being stationed in Germany instead of Korea like all the other people in his division.

Marcarthyism was his enemy however and his was dishonourably discharged from the army for being (in his words) a "cock sucking Commie." There are, of course, worse things to be, but, like so many in his position, he headed West and ended up in San Francisco, rubbing shoulders initially with the beat poets  before embracing the hippy culture; "the Haight had to be closed to traffic because there were so many people there. Be under no illusions, this place was JUST as exciting as they say it was... More so..."

Eventually he opened up a dog grooming parlour on Castro (where he looked after Harvey Milk's dogs), and spent all his spare time shooting films of the area on Super 8. The 1970s documentary footage in the opening of the film Milk was all his work. I was deeply honoured to be in his presence.

We had lunch and wandered back to Delores Beach where we marvelled at the number of insane casualties from the drug era, and in a far more positive light, how mixed the whole of this city seems to be. Gangs of young people are mixes of black, white, every shade of Asian, gay and straight. It's a true melting pot.

Back in the Castro we made more new friends. One of them introduced us to a plaque in the memory of a local character, a gay Vietnam veteran by the name of Leonard Matlovich whose chilling epitaph read "when I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." Come on! That's got to be worth a few minutes' thought!

Just around the corner another of our new friends showed us the latest plaque on the Castro. This one is very carefully made out of a cardboard box and is to Robin Williams. There's a little picture of him cut out of a newspaper and a quote from him which goes something along the lines of, "when I walk the streets of San Francisco I no longer feel like freak." It's another corker.

I'm now drunk. I wrote all the rest of this blog before drinking two gin and tonics. Doesn't sound like much, but I don't drink. We went to a piano bar and I sang ABBA. Money something. Funny key. I'm not Frida am I? Am I? Am I Frida? Shh. Mustn't talk to the locals.

Tonight we climbed Corona Heights and are cake. Watched mists rolling in. Nice crisps by the way. San Fran in mist is delightful. Somewhere across the bay, the dying sun caught on windows. Like balls of fire.

Shh, because people in the B and B don't want to hear me singing. Can they hear me eating crisps? Packet of crips. I'm riding the special bus.

Is that enough? Have I written enough? Little tiny people on the street outside. Dear little San Franciscans. Of course I love them all even though they're tiny. Are all tiny people tiny or just further away?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sing if you're glad to be gay

Nathan woke up this morning feeling particularly chipper, which was just as well as we had to wheel our suitcases up Market Street from the Travelodge to our new little gay-owned Bed and Breakfast. This place is an absolute joy to behold. There are about ten bedrooms within the guest house. Breakfast is served in a tiny upstairs kitchen. There are cocktails for all the guests between 7 and 8pm every night in the lounge and fresh towels and beautiful scents drift through the building. We're very happy in our new home. It's much cheaper than the Travelodge and fastidiously clean... Unlike the lodge, which was a desperate shit hole with drunk vagrants peeing all over the car park; the car park which guests were charged $15 a night to park in. I was reading a review of the place today from someone who'd checked in and found a can of Tox on his bed!

Because Virgin Atlantic haven't even responded to us about changing flights, the decision has been made to take an internal flight down to LAX on Thursday in time to catch the flight we'd already booked. The alternative was shelling out £2000 for new flights, and, frankly, our insurance company have been so sketchy about what they're prepared to pay for, we didn't want to take the risk.

Nathan ended the day back at the medical centre who have signed him off as fit to travel. Apparently if Virgin get a sniff of a word like pneumonia, they'll refuse to let Nathan fly without a doctor's note... So $150 dollars later, we have the necessary document.

Nathan was already a celebrity in the clinic on account of his lovely accent and his pneumonia being so acute, but today he became a veritable pin-up boy because his body has responded so speedily to the treatment.

He does indeed seem like a new man. We celebrated by taking the train to Ocean Beach so that he could see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. We actually fed crows on the beach. I wasn't aware that crows liked to nest in sand dunes, but there they were, squabbling with the seagulls over our chocolate chip cookie.

We walked, barefoot, along the sea shore. The water was freezing. The surf was fairly high, and quite a lot of surfer dudes were taking advantage in their wet suits. A fair number of artists were painting pictures on the beach, strangely very few were attempting to capture the sea views they were sitting in front of! One woman was painting a picture of two people crying blood. Only in San Francisco!

We walked up to the camera obscura, which is quite a lot of fun. You're led into a dark room with a white parabolic dish in the centre onto which a 360-degree view from a spinning roof is projected via a mirror and two lenses. It's a surreal and rather beautiful sight. Some of the waves on the ocean were glinting magically in the sun which, whilst we were inside, had popped out from behind the sea mist. Knowing what I know about San Francisco weather, I'm not sure the sun ever shines for long on Ocean Beach!

The complex within which the camera obscura is situated used to be a Victorian penny arcade. I visited it with Fiona when I was last here, 14 years ago. We had our photo taken in a 1950s black and white photo booth. I was immensely sun-tanned and looked like a little Bengali lad. Sadly, the arcade was re-located 12 years ago, so there was no before and after shot for me, which is a real shame. I very badly burnt my forehead about four days ago, and I look a proper state with all the peeling and nastiness. There's a brown layer of dead skin on my hair line. It looks like I'm wearing a dirty wig. It would have been fun to capture this on camera!

We walked back the entire length of Golden Gate Park, which, for those in the know, is quite some trek, albeit a hugely worth-while one. The park is stunningly beautiful. Closer to the ocean, it's all dusty red earth and native fir trees, but the nearer to the Haight you get, the more it becomes landscaped with stunning Japanese tea gardens, waterfalls, lakes and lawns as green as fresh peas. Golden Gate park's only drawback is that it's nowhere near the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a little confusing, especially when you consider that the park next to the bridge is actually called The Presidio.

The most moving area of the space is the National AIDS Memorial. The Americans really know how to do a monument. They don't stick a crappy brass plaque on a tree or go for some conceptual piece of marble, they dedicate whole acres of land to the cause and make everything thought-provoking and emotionally-charged. Perhaps it's because they tend to honour their more recent history more fervently. We wait until everyone's dead.

Anyway, the AIDS memorial is essentially a series of walkways and circular stone platforms carved into a verdant ravine. Many of the stones are inscribed with touching messages to the insane number of San Franciscans who died of the disease. The community here was ripped apart - just as it was pulling itself together and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the wake of Harvey Milk's assassination.

One poignant stone carving instructed passes by to stop inside the circle and contemplate that
"Although they all died of one cause, remember how their lives were dense with fine compacted difference." Another stone said simply, "we fought for love." My God how my community did just that...

Elsewhere in the complex, a little toy dinosaur with its stuffing falling out sat on a stone. Was it simply a dog's toy dropped carelessly? Or did it have far greater significance?

In one circular platform, an almost bewildering number of names were written in a giant spiral: the names of those who'd died, and their loved ones left behind. That's when I started weeping bitter tears.

The entrance plaque pretty much summed things up. "This grove proclaims to the world that there is a dedicated public space where anyone who has been touched by AIDS can find comfort, grieve openly without being stigmatised, and experience the feelings of hope inspired by nature. The National AIDS Memorial Grove signifies that the global tragedy of AIDS will never be forgotten."

San Francisco has repeatedly made me feel proud to be gay. It makes me feel free to celebrate my sexuality because it constantly reminds me how people fought and died to give me that right. It's also made me realise quite how much, until I got married, I'd found myself making compromises with the way I behaved, because I knew my own sexuality could make others potentially feel uncomfortable. When I made the films for The Space about my Requiem, my BBC mentor actually told me that he felt the films were too gay; "if you rub your sexuality in your listeners' faces, you'll intimidate them and lose audiences." I responded that I'd spoken openly about being gay in the films because the requiem is about love and the people I love tend to be men. I asked if I was black, and had written a gospel-inspired piece, if he'd have found that intimidating. "Would that have been too black?" I asked. He didn't know what to say. In San Fran, nothing is too gay, and because of that, no one feels the need to scream about it!