Thursday, 4 October 2012

100 years old Drag Queens


I’m returning to London from Newcastle through the flooded fields of Yorkshire. The North East of England has taken an absolute pounding in recent days; the rivers are swollen to bursting point, and the cows are horses are huddled miserably in the corners of water-logged fields. Still, the sun is presently shining, casting long shadows across the countryside and a clean, green light onto the tree tops. I stare towards the distant grey hills of the Yorkshire Moors wondering how many of the roads in the Vale of York I’ve travelled along.

The woman sitting opposite me is collapsing under the weight of her victimhood. Five seconds ago, my foot brushed past the tip of her enormous ogg boots and she started writhing like a woman in labour whilst staring at me. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “You kicked me!” She said, her face contorted in the agony of a footballer trying to get a penalty. To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the skin of her feet was recently taken off in a freak accident involving a bottle of vinegar. Perhaps I have carbolic acid on the toes of my shoes. I’ve never known such an over-reaction to a tiny little tap. I apologised, but the tone of my voice told her she was a silly little thing. She immediately fell asleep and I exchanged glances with the nice woman opposite.

I’ve been in Newcastle for the last two days doing publicity for, and having various meetings about the 100 Faces project. We were sorting through the entrants today; individuals of all ages with tales of happiness and tragedy from as far south as York and Barrow-in-Furness, all the way up both coats to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and Carlisle. We’ve now found people to represent 80 of the 100 years since 1912. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the ages which are missing are in the 80 plus category, although we have found two 100 year-olds! Two! It’s almost inconceivable that we have to say no to one of them. Couldn’t one of them pretend to be 99, or something? Sometimes I wish I weren’t such a purist! We also seem to have an absolute glut of interesting people who were born in 1962. Perhaps becoming 50 makes people reappraise their lives, and suddenly decide to start the process of living.

The BBC put me up in a lovely hotel. My bedroom overlooked the Tyne somewhere between the Metro Bridge and the swing bridge. I went to bed with the curtains open so that I could see the watery river lights reflecting onto the ceiling of my room. I felt very grand indeed.

Last night we went out to the Pink Triangle, an area of gay bars and clubs to the West of the train station. We were searching for a drag queen. The people who feature in the 100 Faces project need to reflect the diversity of communities across the North East and Cumbria, and the vicious drag queens of Newcastle are legendary! One stood rather superciliously behind the DJ desk in one of the bars wearing a Lady Di wig and giving withering looks to the punters. Periodically she’d use her rich baritonal voice to utter something vile or acerbic into a microphone. She simply didn’t give a shit. Death would have been too good for her audience.

The Pink Triangle was almost empty and seemed to have quite strange atmosphere about it. George Michael was playing at the arena and the Lady Boys of Bangkok were shrieking out Cher songs in a tent in the middle of the Life Centre so perhaps the gays were elsewhere. One of the bars was filled to the brim with straight women in high-heeled shoes, slutty mini-skirts and lurid satin shirts dancing to a Steps Medley. In front of them, a bloke wearing high-wasted jeans, and looking every bit the train-spotter, was half-heartedly doing every single Steps step. He obviously felt too cool to give it large... but he was wearing stone-washed jeans and dancing to Tragedy. The name of the song said it all.

350 years ago, Pepys was blaming his wife for a spate of lie-ins. He worked until 9 at night, examining the particulars of the sinking of one of the Navy fleet off the coast of Holland. The weirdly named Satisfaction had apparently gone down as the result of pilot error.

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