We've been with Abbie all night tonight. It was her birthday yesterday and she booked a table in the old Colherne Pub, which was where Nathan, Philip and I had our joint 40th birthday party. The Colherne was a gay pub, back in the 70s, when Earls Court was a proper homo-hub. All that remains of that particular community these days is a lone Clone Zone, a sort of upmarket sex shop for men who like to go out for an evening without their wives!
It was a lovely evening. We played a few games and I had a nice cup of tea. One of the games caused a bit of a broiges, which flared up like a flash fire over a hat filled with innocent-looking pieces of paper. I think there are people in this world who passionately love to play games and people who hate them with as much alacrity. This evening witnessed a massive clash of these two types of people.
Abbie's Mum brought an enormous box of vintage sweeties; brilliant things like Parma Violets, Refreshers, Love Hearts and Drum Sticks which went down very well as the evening rolled on.
The evening ended with a cheeky haloumi kebab around the corner. Naughty but nice.
We talked about the flooding in York. Facebook informs me that at least one of my friends has been evacuated. I found a map online of the flood-damaged zones and it seems that both of the streets I lived in as a student have suffered extensive damage. It's so awful to watch the news and see sodden Christmas decorations and sofas being thrown into skips whilst shell-shocked families stand outside houses with tide marks reaching up to the first floor windows.
About ten years ago I made a film about flood victims in Sheffield. We were able to follow a woman as she went back into her house for the first time since she'd been rescued by a boat from her bedroom window. The place was an absolute wreck. A little soft toy was sitting on the front door step. The woman picked it up, went into the house and used it to wipe the mud away from several framed photographs which were lying smashed and water-logged on the floor.
She was apparently known in her family for her collection of porcelain and glass clowns which had once been displayed proudly on her side board. I watched as she discovered that every single one had smashed. She wept bitterly. It was devastating.
Perhaps even more devastating was taking the cameras into a refuge centre where local people who had been flooded out could have a free meal, get legal advice and find second-hand furniture and cleaning products. I helped to unload a patio furniture set and nasty chipboard single bed from a van which had been collecting donations from around the county. A fight broke out between two men who were desperate for some replacement furniture. It was extremely distressing to watch.
I remember a man coming into the centre with his family and sitting down to eat a free meal from flimsy paper plates. He looked so ashamed and when the cameras came out he tried to hide his face. A great deal gets written about the need for gender equality and how awful it is for women to be brought into a world where they're treated like second-class citizens. But ingrained gender perceptions go deep. Spare the odd thought for the working man who is taught from the moment he's born that his job - his duty - is to provide for and protect his loved ones at all costs. When he loses that ability, for whatever reasons, he loses the right to call himself a man, and that is one of the greatest tragedies a man can endure.