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the importance of being artistic.

February 10, 2013

Something I didn’t list in my aims for 2013, but that has become a focus for me early on in the year, is to reintroduce art back into my life. This stems initially from a throwaway comment Toby’s father made, asking me what hobbies I had. Generally, I don’t talk about my musical pursuits or my blogging with my family, because I would find it embarrassing to explain exactly what I do, or even worse, give examples of them to people who feel they have the right to judge and criticise you simply because they are related to you (which is not the same as having a close connection with someone. Some relatives we also enjoy a feeling of closeness and confidence with – for me, my mum, dad and grandmother; otherwise I tend to feel that my partner and my friends constitute the bulk of my “family”. If that makes sense.). It’s a similar thing about maintaining a boundary between your professional and personal life when you’re getting to know colleagues. Some colleagues may become friends, but I tend to be very careful and cautious about how much I let people know about me.

So through no fault of his own, Toby’s father has been shielded from the majority of my hobbies and personal pursuits, and is not aware of what I do outside of cleaning and maintaining the house. I dropped the word “blogging” with no further elaboration, and swiftly moved on to focus on my Italian classes. Unlike me, Toby is admirably open about his creative skills: he’s actually created a new blog dedicated to his knitting and culinary creations, which you should all check out. And so, in kind, I have decided to reactivate my drawing skills. I used to love Art at school, but I wanted to study languages and so I had to make the choice not to continue with Art after Year 9. I also was fairly decent at it, but after so long I wasn’t confident that I would be able to draw or sketch anything. I had made a few attempts during the less interesting lectures of my postgrad, but nothing more serious than preliminary tattoo designs (and we all know those turned out well enough anyway!). So after Toby gave me a pristine sketchbook he had never used, I decided to jump-start the year by buying a nice set of sketching pencils, one of those lovely tablet rubbers, and get drawing. My first attempt (sketching a white rose I found online) turned out like this:

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It would appear that I still know how to draw! Since then I’ve done a couple of other things which I am really pleased with, and perhaps I’ll share some of them on here in time.

For my leaving present from Southbank, my colleagues bought my a Kindle, which was extremely touching. I am already a huge fan of it, because I do most of my reading when I’m on the tube or the bus, and my bag is now both less heavy and more roomy. I’ve also enjoyed browsing the online books in both the Amazon Kindle store and on Project Gutenberg. I’ve now read The Life of Pi (which I think is still available for a bargainous 20p), The Turn of the Screw and am currently starting Wuthering Heights. It’s wonderful that books published 100+ years ago are free to download, and I am taking the opportunity to enrich myself with classics I otherwise probably wouldn’t bother to read. Hannah sent me a great link to Stylist’s page on the best free books, which is a wonderful list to help get started on the Kindle (especially if you don’t want to spend too much money on brand new books at first).

Finally, another way I am seeking to enrich my life is through perhaps Toby and I attending some evening lectures. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been to the occasional talk, but as we are getting older, we haven’t got the energy to be out drinking every night (actually, I’m not certain we ever did!) but neither do we want to spend all of our evenings in. So in order to enrich ourselves, we could either do some exercise (I don’t know how successful that would be), or visit some exhibits, attend some lectures and listen to some interesting people. I have found a London Lecture List and already I’ve got some ideas for things that might be interesting. There’s also the second Vogue Festival in April, and I am certain that this year I’ll budget for it in advance and try to attend 🙂 If I indeed make it, I’m sure that I’ll cover the event on HOMME FATAL. It seems silly to stick to the TED app (which is an amazing resource) when we’re living in London and could go and see inspiring speakers in the flesh. This whole post is about jump-starting the year and seeking out new sources of inspiration in order to enrich and culture myself.

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my gay online adolescence.

January 28, 2013

Just the other week, Harry Hitchens (from BBC’s Young Apprentice) posted a video on Youtube coming out to the world.

He states that his main motivation for doing this was so that other young people who were learning to accept themselves and their sexuality did not feel so alone. I wish that there had been more of these videos when I’d been growing up, because my gay adolescence was quite lonely; and although I knew I wasn’t the only one, it was a long time before any of my peers were willing to expose themselves so publically and so deeply.

In my youth, we had no Youtube or Twitter. Facebook didn’t arrive until the end of my first year of university. As a teenager, all I had was Faceparty and MSN (and AIM for a brief period, but few in the UK used it), and Myspace (which I used primarily for my music, but I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of people via that medium who have ultimately become good friends). Otherwise, to talk to other people, there were online forums and bulletin boards; awkwardly enough, for a year and a half I navigated my adolescence writing cathartic and experimental poetry on a largely Christian bulletin board. Eventually, for a range of reasons, we drifted apart (although amicably so).

My father took a long time to cave in to broadband; over dialup, I used WinMX to download music one song at a time; occasionally I would download brief gay porn videos that would take HOURS for just a couple of minutes’ worth of footage, that I would then delete upon logging off the net for fear of my dad seeing them. A couple of times late at night once my parents were long asleep, I also cybered with randoms I found in chatrooms on WinMX. The screens of these chatrooms were black, and the writing for different people would be in different colours; it looked much more aggressive and raw than the internet looks now, but there was no permanence to the interactions; the words spiralled into an abyss, into nothing. In the present, every single thing you do online has ramifications; thankfully, I didn’t have to navigate my sexuality and my youth online with the fear of my words being screenshot, paraphrased, used against me at any opportunity being a realistic one. (I know it could still have been done, especially with my father’s IT expertise, but it wasn’t prevalent the way that it seems to be today.)

During the year I spent living in Spain, I used to spend a hell of a lot of time chatting to Hannah on MSN, and a site we explored for a little while was called MeetYourMessenger, which was a combination of Faceparty and MSN. It was not very fruitful however; I remember having one conversation where a guy spoke to me exclusively through ostentatious, glittering animations and smileys. He was blocked after that conversation. I also used to read gay fanfic on Nifty, and I actually got talking to a guy on there; we even met up a couple of times! We also used to cam, and all of these memories remind me of how when flirting on all of these different sites, people were desperate for pictures, for videoed conversations. Separate USB webcams are now a thing of the past, but back then they were an indispensable part of the online experience for some, threatening symbols of sexual predators for others, and a laugh for the lucky rest of us in between.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I originally found Toby through Fitlads, a gay dating site that intimidated me far less than Gaydar. I didn’t have an iPhone at that point so I have never used Grindr, and I think I’d probably find that too intimidating too. Anyways, after a couple of successful conversations on MSN where we both proved to one another that we actually had thoughts in our brains, once we found out that we both were attending UWE for our postgrads, we decided to cut the online stuff and just meet in person. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I had forgotten a lot of these things until I started looking back over my teenage years in detail, and thinking about all of the websites I used to visit. They sound almost quaint compared to what sites are around now, and at the same time as the internet became faster, sleeker and more commonplace, I thankfully became older, wiser and more prudent with my actions. At the age of 11, 12 or 13, I don’t know if I would have been savvy enough to evade every pitfall Facebook (let alone more adult sites) has to offer. From my time at Cirencester College, teaching young people about how to be intelligent about what they share on the internet is important – especially in a culture of digital natives where there is a lot of pressure to share everything (from peers and otherwise). In this same way, just as I discovered the internet as I grew older, is the right to privacy something young people of today will only really discover and understand in their twenties – once it’s, perhaps, a little too late?

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exploring Little Venice + Kilburn. (multiple tube update!)

January 27, 2013

Today, Toby and I had originally planned to go to see the Royal Ballet photographic exhibition at The Hospital Club near Covent Garden. However, because we couldn’t work out if the exhibition was open today (the page with the exhibition said it was on today, but the opening times for the venue states that they are closed on Sundays), we decided to go elsewhere. After a think, I remembered that one place I had always been curious to visit was Little Venice. Cue much singing of Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue”.

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Warwick Avenue and Maida Vale is another beautiful area of London, with lots of grand white terraced houses with the columned steps up to the front doors (one of my ambitions is to one day live in a house with white columns flanking the front door. Dream big.) and big leafy trees. We had a walk around Little Venice and its triangle of water – it was smaller than I expected, but there was still a pretty riverside mini-park: The Rembrandt Gardens:

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and then we ended up on the other side of the canal in somewhere called Sheldon Square, which reminds me of Big Bang Theory.

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After this, we moseyed on up through Maida Vale and onto Kilburn High Road. It’s not a glamorous location by any means, but the mish-mash of cultures (Muslim here, Jewish there, pan-European further up the road) and the busy hum of people gave the area a buzz that was nice to experience – once, at least. Toby and I were amused by some of the shops which looked like they had been imported from 20 years ago. If HMV and Blockbuster are now out of business, how shops such as “Computer and Mobile Land” and “Half Price Games” are still surviving is beyond me. The proliferation of Poundlands and Shoe Zones gave me the impression that my grandmother had had a hand in designing the street. Anyway, to complete the post, here are the tube stations that we managed to cross off the list on our walk from Maida Vale to Kilburn. Now we’re back home, I’m taking refuge on the sofa for the rest of the evening – and it’s well earned!

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antidote.

January 7, 2013

Today, I realised that my intention for 2013 is to get the poison out of my life. I know that the word “detox” normally conjures up ideas of colonics, crazy crash diets and unlikely health fads, but the real meaning of the word “detox” is to detoxify. I think the start of the year heralds many positive changes for my life, and it’s time to make those positive changes to serve as an antidote to the things that have been undermining my happiness, sometimes sneakily and sometimes less so.

I have so far been cigarette-free for nearly a week. I know it’s early days, but this is a good sign that I’ll be able to maintain this in the long term. Toby and I have been considering healthy eating alternatives, and today he made us both a lunchbox filled with couscous, sliced peppers, carrots and cucumber, and some hummus. It was healthy and filling – not particularly inspiring, but nevertheless it made a nice change from my usual lunch and it did keep me fuller for longer! So after a few weeks of getting used to a more varied lunch through the week incorporating more vegetables (I am also embracing Greek yoghurt as a snack), I’m going to attempt to reintroduce sit-ups and press-ups back into my life. I knew that quitting smoking would work best cold turkey for me; other things, like introducing healthier food and exercise, are going to be a more gradual change that I will be fairly loose with in an attempt to make these changes something I can ultimately incorporate into my life without resenting.

In two weeks’ time, I will start a new job at a university in central London! I am so thrilled to have got this new position, which is similar in nature to my current one but in an HE environment, which to me is a real step up and will open up more career opportunities. It also allows me to escape the toxic and insane atmosphere and games in my current workplace. To me, this is a perfect example of getting some of the poison out of my life – dealing with resentment, uncertainty and unnecessary stress every day in the workplace has a detrimental effect after a while, and I don’t need to be treated that way. So I’ve chosen to move on to somewhere that will hopefully respect me a lot more. Toby is also excited because I will rant less about work at the end of most days!

Following up from my blog lamenting the prospect of Christmas spent with my family, it was actually more comically awful than I could ever have anticipated – although my homosexuality and my relationship with Toby had nothing to do with the drama. My parents had a massive row which made me feel like it was 20 years ago screaming at them to leave each other alone and solve their problems; my mother subsequently broke her wrist; my cousin, uncle and aunt revealed a casual homophobia that I found bizarre. And due to the stellar weather (*sarcasm*), the transport getting to and from Bristol was fucked up both times. In summary, even though I had pretty much made up my mind before even going home, this winter’s experience has confirmed that next Christmas will be my first London Christmas, creating my own traditions and carving out my independence. I will still see my family for a weekend around that time, and I will see Toby’s family for a weekend around that time too – but I need at least one Christmas where I am nobody’s child and instead am free to be my own person. I am already looking forward to it.

I feel like even if a couple of the changes I am setting out here have fallen by the wayside by the end of the year, that 2013 signifies a new start, a new day and a refined (if not “new”) me. Along with this, I’ve already started writing lyrics for a new album that will reflect maturity, independence, hope, strength and importantly, vibrancy. By removing all of the poison from my day-to-day existence (physically, mentally and emotionally), I hopefully will have more freedom and energy to enjoy life and really make the most of it.

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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family ties. (+ Mill Hill East)

December 18, 2012

In direct contrast to my blog the other evening about my extended family’s impending non-acceptance of my sexuality, on Sunday Toby and I journeyed up to Mill Hill East to meet his grandmother – for me, this was the first time and I was a bit nervous! But at the same time, I was very excited as it was meaningful to be introduced to more members of his family. In contrast to my family, Toby’s family have been nothing but welcoming and although at first Toby had met more of my family than I had of his, by this point he’s clearly winning the race. (He does have more relatives than me, to be fair.) I’ve felt nothing but welcome and love from them.

But first of all, we had to get up there. Mill Hill East is very far away from Chiswick. So far, in fact, that it has its own special branch of the Northern line.

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Eventually after the hour + journey, we arrived at Toby’s grandmother’s place, where I realised that I do have talents and hobbies, and can thus describe myself effectively and interestingly. I also enjoyed a couple of pieces of apple strudel, which is momentous for me because I generally avoid anything containing fruit like the plague. I had a lovely time and I hope that I made a good impression – I was myself, but I also feel that I presented myself well. I just wish that my own family would be as welcoming.