Arty Farty Lovey!

A good Boulevardier, however displaced, still views the arts as the air he breaths, and as such, I’m pleased to report a recent few days full of such activity.

I attended Boy George’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre earlier in the year when he trialled some new music. He mentioned that he would be doing some more concerts later in the year once the new album was released, and that is how I found myself at Koko, formally Camden Palace.

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It was a rather cold evening which is expected in November, but still a little disappointing. Dressing for a concert is never easy as there will invariably be queuing outside, but you want to be able to remove outer layers as the auditorium heats up, without either resembling the Michelin man, queuing for the cloakroom or having them all draped over your arm. I settled on punk zip black and white trousers with a half denim half jersey jacket (sleeves are jersey), desert boots and a long woolly scarf. The scarf kept me warm when queuing and could be tied around my midriff once inside the venue. I hope you are impressed with my foresight and practicality! I bumped into a few people I knew in the queue and was able to gossip the wait to enter away.

Once inside I purchased a warming and revitalising large red wine and looked for my friend Tony who was there with his brother. Camden Palace really is an amazing building. It was originally a theatre built in the early 20th century and became a music venue in the late 1970s. It hosted legendary nights by Steve Strange, and Madonna’s first UK gig. My first visit was in the late 1980s when it was a busy and innovative nightclub. We went for a friend’s birthday. The main area which had previously accommodated the theatre stalls was now a vast dance floor. The upper levels containing all the boxes were areas to sit, dance and drink. I am pretty sure there was also a massive inflatable pink pig which hung from the ceiling but this could have been the effects of the large quantities of sherry consumed.

The venue has been overhauled since my first visit but still retains a lot of charm, character and the essence of a theatre. The warm-up band came on and other friends of Tony arrived and I had the chance to meet the lovely, gorgeous and fun Fiona, Monique and Emma. We stayed together for the entire concert and danced, laughed, clapped and whooped at all the appropriate moments.

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Boy George was excellent. His voice has matured and sounds very different to the earlier Culture Club records. I like both. He looked great and oozed style from the stage and peppered his performance with witty (and sometimes slightly bitchy) quips. This is Boy George after all. The new tracks sounded great among the classics such as Church of the Poison Mind, Karma Chameleon, and Bow Down Mister.

The concert was all too soon over and we were on a high. It was a great time for further chat and to catch up with other friends I had seen in the queue earlier.

The following evening I was due to meet Tony again as we had purchased tickets to see Ferret Up The Arts starring Miss Eve Ferret with Hazel O’Connor and a couple of other performance artists. This was held at The Arts Theatre in the West End. After a day’s work I quickly preened and re-quiffed my hair and journeyed to central London to meet Tony for a drink before the show. We tripped down the outside steps to the basement which houses the private members’ Covent Garden Cocktail Club. After being validated at the entrance as worthy patrons we entered the dimly lit, atmospheric bar full with West End trendsetters and Boulevardiers. These however, didn’t look displaced.

Cocktails were two for one on a Monday evening and it would have been rude not to partake. We enjoyed several ‘London Calling’ which were gin, Fino Sherry, bitters with a strip of orange zest for garnish soaked glasses, at a high bistro style table. Even the route to the conveniences was signed by Old Gin Street. It is a secret haven and a great modern speakeasy hidden from tourists in the West End.

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The show was a powerhouse of Eve Ferret’s quirky brilliance. Eve called it a Fabaret and it certainly had her stamp all over it. A mixture of song, dance and anecdote where peignoirs are once again the height of fashion (as long as they’re nylon according to Eve), mange tout are scattered at the audience like confetti, as a life size child doll is passed by Eve to crowd surf. Hazel O’Connor joined Eve on stage for several numbers, which was a real treat. Hazel finished with Will You. Her voice still holds the melancholy tune and it was inspirational to hear her sing it in a smaller venue, having already enjoyed her at Chillfest in the summer. Crazy Horses with Hobby-horses as props was genius.

This is what theatre really should be about – live cabaret steeped in tradition and talent, brought up-to-date. It hits you between the eyes and makes you sing along, laugh out loud and jump from your seat to applaud louder at the end of each number.

We had bumped into a couple of other friends; Jon and Paul, who seemed to have consumed a few more cocktails than Tony and I and we chatted with them in the upstairs bar after the show when all the performers (aside from Hazel who had an early recording session the following day) came to say hello. Eve is as engaging and witty in person as she is on stage a true West End diva. High on the evening, and after another drink, we said our goodbyes and travelled back to our various corners of London totally sated.

So the next day, fortunately not working, I awoke in my cold bedroom, lit a fire and climbed back into bed with a warming, revitalising cup of Assam tea and decadently watched the flames jump as they warmed the room. All Tuesdays should be days for just staying in bed, don’t you think?

TNW

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Is it Real?

Reality television is a huge part of contemporary program scheduling and has grown vastly over the last decade, particularly with the arrival of Big Brother in the early noughties.

As a Boulevarider, reality TV first entered my sphere in the late 1980s when reruns were shown of the 1970s show, The Family. It was then called a fly-on-the-wall documentary and followed the Wilkins’ family from Reading, originally made and screened in the 1970s. We followed their daily lives and viewed everything – warts and all. It felt so voyeuristic and I watched with wonder at their transparency, and entered their homes and existences. Today we might refer to it as car crash viewing but then it felt fresh, innovative and just so exposing.

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I forgot about the format as it seemed to disappear and pressed through the 1990s and was aware of the format again with the first UK series of Big Brother. My flatmate had recommended that we watch it. We were glued from the first episode. I lived the ups and the downs and was instantly taken with the sheer pantomime. Who remembers Nick from the first series? I literally despised him and championed Craig who exposed his scheming! As soon as the series ended I was looking for the next.

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Big Brother grew with the second series, as did my viewing pleasure. I carried on as a devoted fan through to series eight and partially watched series nine and ten. At the height of its popularity and my excitement I would throw Big Brother parties and invite friends who were also addicted to drink and BBQ while we watched the final few housemates emerge. We had shock, anger, tears and laughter and enjoyed every moment.

It seemed that the success of Big Brother and other shows, such as Survivor, catapulted the genre into the juggernaut it is today.

Talent shows like Pop Idol and The X Factor have maintained mainstream appeal.

However, a percentage of the mainstream has fallen out of love with reality television. There is not the same excitement among friends when new series start and the Facebook chat has slowed down also. I however, stay excited and shocked in equal measure at the shenanigans these shows portray. I completely immerse and believe everything I see. Well I believe while I am watching anyway.

When asked why I watch such shows I tend to attempt a response which provides intellectual reasoning.

‘I think it’s an anthropological study.’ or

‘The insight psychologically is amazing!’

While this reasoning is true and I hope gives me credibility, I also love the characters and their tomfooleries.

I can’t live without The Kardashians or Honey BooBoo. How could I sleep if I didn’t know the latest goings on in LA and rural Georgia?

The Hills started faux reality TV where most of the events are true but accentuated and some scenes are set up for our viewing pleasure. This resulted in UK versions such as TOWIE, Made in Chelsea and Desperate Scousewives. I loved them all. My excitement for TOWIE has waned and Desp Scousers was cancelled, but Made is Chelsea is still epic viewing. I don’t care if some of the scenes are staged. It makes for better viewing.

I wrote recently about Catfish which is also a recent and unique reality show.

I have a mini-obsession with the Real Housewives of Everywhere: Atlanta, New Jersey, New York, Beverly Hills, Orange County and Vancouver. The lives of these women and their friends and families are extraordinary and certainly eye opening. They constantly fall out. They create villains and heroes. And as the shows have progressed, we have seen how changes in the world economy  have really affected, in particular, the Real Housewives of Orange County.

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I think this genre is missing from any UK reality TV and I sent a pitch to reality TV production companies last year and am thinking about another.

The first was Bonkers in Berko and centred around a group of friends who live in and around Berkhamsted. I wanted to recommend a show which followed the lives of a group of cool, eventful forty year olds (mostly) as opposed to the twenty somethings who are the common modern reality fodder. I wanted to show that us forties aren’t all Horlicks and PJs.

No responses. Don’t they know a hit when they see it? Unfortunately a few of the would-be stars of the show, my cast, also said they weren’t as keen to appear as I was. Are they mad! It would have been a phenomenon.

More recently I thought of a new show which could be called, The Real but Displaced Boulevardiers of London. I’m pretty sure it would be a fantastic show. Don’t you? I need to find more candidates and build it into a pitch. Surely the production companies wouldn’t miss two hit shows in a row!

I’ll keep you all posted.

TNW

When a film triggers a memory

Last weekend I went to The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley with Michael to watch Philomena. The Phoenix is one of the UK’s oldest purpose-build, continuously operating cinemas according to its website. The vaulted ceiling dates back to the early 20th century. It’s an amazing venue, and quite the place the Boulevardier should frequent.

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The film itself was wonderful and thought provoking, albeit rather harrowing. Towards the end (and I won’t give plot away) there is a scene with an aged and retired nun. She belligerently defends her actions fifty years previously which materially affected Philomena’s life. Philomena remained calm and said she forgave the nun for her actions.

As we left the theatre my thoughts turned to my school days and as we walked back to our cars I told Michael a story about my first few days at school. Some of the detail had faded with time, and as I was meeting my parents for lunch two days later, I decided to ask Mum what she remembered.

After a morning coffee in the Boulevardier’s lounge my parents and I walked the short distance to The Maynard where we were booked for Sunday lunch. After we had ordered our roast chicken, roast beef and a beef and Guinness pie, I asked Mum what she remembered. I was unable to take a long and dramatic sip of sherry or red wine as I was rather dehydrated following a brilliant Halloween party the previous evening, and had decided to abstain.

‘Of course’ said Mum, ‘as if it happened yesterday.’

When I was three years old and not a London Boulevardier but a country boy, I went to playschool. There was no playschool in the village in which we resided and I had to go to the one in the next village. The first morning passed without incident, but on the second Mum received a call as I was distraught. Playschool was held in a timber annexe known as The Scout Hall on the outskirts of the village and one of the older children came in wearing a scary mask! This had almost traumatised me and it will come as no surprise that I didn’t want to return.  I asked Mum why she didn’t make me go back.

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‘There is no choice on whether or not you go to school but there is a choice with playschool’ Mum reasoned.

School soon came around and I was extremely excited and enthusiastic to go. It was six weeks before my fifth birthday. Mum thought she might have a problem leaving me there, but I was positive, took off my coat and ran to a table and sat down. Mum said I was proud as a peacock to be at school. Flamstead JMI was the only education centre in our small village and it felt massive. Its five classrooms and over one hundred pupils were all new to me and daunting enough on their own without the additional punishing circumstances.

The morning passed and Mum came to collect me for lunch. We lived close enough to the school to take luncheon at home. My mood had drastically changed and I did not want to go back to school for the afternoon. Confused, Mum asked me what had changed and I told her the teacher had smacked me. Mum didn’t believe a word of it as a teacher couldn’t smack a child – or could they? I didn’t settle at school as well in the afternoon as I had in the morning and Mum struggled to get me to stay. It was all rather upsetting.

When Mum returned to the school gates at the appointed afternoon time she encountered one of Dad’s sisters, Auntie Ann, and explained the rather odd events of the day. Auntie Ann said she would ask my cousin Lorraine who was also in my class what had happened.

Lorraine confirmed that Mrs S. had smacked me as I couldn’t hold my pencil properly and had tried to make me write with my right hand rather than my natural and favoured left. I hadn’t yet learned to hold my pencil between my thumb and second and third fingers, but rather held the pencil between all my fingers.

At this Mum went straight round to the classroom and demanded to speak with Mrs S.. She denied administering corporal punishment and held her position regarding changing the hand I wrote with. This was the mid-1970s, not the dark ages, in case anyone was wondering. Mum left the classroom and walked to the Headmaster’s office; he listened and confirmed he’d look into it.

Mum came home uneasy and hoped that all would be sorted. The next lunchtime she asked me which hand I had used to hold my pencil, and I indicated I had to use my right. I of course didn’t say right as I was too young to know the difference but rather showed Mum.

We walked back to school for the afternoon session and Mum went straight to the Headmaster who was apparently still looking into it. Mum wasn’t having any of it and told Mr Ashwood, the Headmaster that she was going to see the GP for a professional opinion.

Mum telephoned Dr Coombes that afternoon and he confirmed that there was no way the school should continue trying to change the hand with which I wrote. He suggested that Mum should notify the school of his opinion and if there were any more problems he would come to the school. Mum relayed the message to Mr Ashwood and I was suddenly allowed to use my left hand again.

Mrs S. was in Mum’s words ‘as sweet as apple pie’ thereafter with no further incidents. Years later when Mum would bump into her she would always ask after me. Mum would always give a curt ‘He’s fine’ response.   

I can remember being smacked across the left hand, which knocked the pencil from my hand, and being aggressively criticised for using the wrong hand, holding the pencil incorrectly and not being able to write my name. My memories are in flashes and evoke somewhat unsettling emotions of panic and despair.

I thought we went to school to learn?

I can also remember being told that I was far too naughty to go out to play in the afternoon with the rest of the children and being made to sit on a chair outside the staffroom as Mrs S. watched me. I was terrified and so upset. I can remember being really excited about growing up and being old enough to attend school, and things unravelling and going so wrong so quickly and it was all too much. I made a dash for it but S. caught me before I could get out of the building and make the short run home. She smacked me again and chastised me for being so disobedient

Years later when I was in my late teens this incident used to haunt me and I wanted to go and speak to the teacher, dominate her, and see how she felt. I decided not to and I am glad I didn’t.

We finished our lunch. Mum was too full for dessert, aside from a spoonful of my sticky toffee pudding. Dad had some bread and butter pudding. We chatted more about old memories and I connected on Facebook to one of Mum’s cousins whose new address she didn’t have. It was a lovely afternoon. I always enjoy my parent’s visits to Crouch End.

Did Mrs S. ever look back and realise she had acted so wrongly? I have no idea. However, at least there weren’t any long-lasting or adverse consequences, and I really enjoyed school. In fact, aside from the first few days, I would go back and do it all again at the drop of a hat.

The consequences on Philomena were substantially more severe and in fact incomparable. It’s really amazing sometimes how a really old and rarely thought of memory is triggered. As I reflected I am glad I didn’t confront my teacher, and like Philomena, maintained my dignity.

TNW

Midlife Transition

The Boulevardier is hurtling through his 40s and facing challenges usually associated with a midlife crisis. In fact they are no longer called such and the politically correct term is midlife transition. I guess the word crisis is not politically correct and might offend some.

I thought that the main component to hit me was a return to punk which I had lived in my latter years at school. At 39 (nearly 40) my hair was dyed blue black and I shopped in Camden again, rueing the closing of Kensington Market.

This has passed but I still score 16/40 on the top signs of a midlife episode as researched by the Telegraph and added to the end of this post for your attention and amusement.

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Am I a cliché? I decided to check in with friends of a similar age, and potentially similar predicament.  Their responses and experiences are in some ways funny but also quite sad and delusional. However, this helps to put everything in perspective.

One glitzy friend who I have known for a number of years always strived for flashy and ostentatious cars, and sometimes when he could ill afford them. My dad often referred to him as trying to live life as a playboy! My dad also relishes opportunities to point out his greying hair which receives external and polite smiles but internal grimaces. My other friends subject to my study are in a similar type of situation but perhaps not as extreme.

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The main and recurring themes are as follows:

Forty seems to have been an incredibly difficult milestone to hit and attempts to reverse the effects have been avidly pursued since. Most are now plunging toward mid-forties.

This reversal took shape by weight loss and spending noteworthy time in the gym. The spoils of which are shared when hitting the town again on a Friday night; an occupation that most of them gave up in their late twenties. Are these social events to be enjoyable occasions with friends? Well yes in part, but also time to validate the success of the age-reversing project.

The need to corroborate with young men and women how old they look seemed to be an almost universal theme. The surveys have elicited responses from twenty six to forty three. To hear the numbers in the twenties fills them with ecstasy and motivates harder gym sessions to continue their successful age-reversal strategies. However, when the responses have hit forty and higher my friends get despondent and depressed. This surely is an unnecessary emotional roller coaster? One respondent said that if they give higher numbers he asks if they are joking and quickly moves on to the next one willing to engage with him.

To prepare for these events they apparently spend one and a half hours pruning and preening (not too excessive in the Boulevardier’s mind). They couple crisp shirts with Essexesque suits, highly polished shoes, don sunglasses and smother in St Tropez. The planning for Friday night events starts on Monday with the outfit planned and trialled by Wednesday.

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They long to be compared to celebrities. I have heard everything from Gavin Henson and Mario from TOWIE, to George Michael.

Another said that he even asks those surveyed ‘Do you think I’m sexy?’ This presumably evokes various responses which he was not keen to share.

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The celebrations are a mix of pouting, posing, drinking and dancing. The favoured drinks of Kahlua and diet coke, Malibou and Tia Maria scream the 1980s. Who do they think they’re fooling?

They stave off dad-dancing tendencies by practicing in the mirror. I’m not sure they successfully pull this off but I don’t have evidence either way to validate or dispel.

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They feel as if they are acting naturally and not doing anything wrong. But they are. These are crimes against forty year old men. They should wear their grey with pride, which I can now speak of without reserve as ‘Operation Grey’ (see earlier blog) has been successful. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a nice Oloroso sherry in residence with a freshly cooked Boeuf Bourguignon while in raptures about your new napkin rings.

We all saw older men and women at clubs when we were in the prime of youth. They were often sources of amusement and in their own world. Are my friends any different? Should I put them out of their misery? Will they still be doing this on their Zimmer frames?

I think another shock is that these are not a group of friends who are mutual friends. I spoke to five separately who have no common contact other than me. It’s a disease. And oddly enough they all wish to remain anonymous!

The saving grace was one friend who said he didn’t understand this obsession with constantly striving to look younger. This was also directed at me. I suppose I should be grateful to have a balanced group to look to and at.

I found the below study published by the Telegraph detailing the top 40 signs of a midlife crisis. I thought I was struggling at 16 but was reassured by Harry at 24. I asked on Facebook what people’s scores were and those that responded ranged from 5-27 with an average of 18.

When we are young we will and demand the future. We push forward with such vigour and excitement. I’m not saying that we stop pushing forwards as we age but we also take time to appreciate the moments as they occur. We miss this when we are young. We miss savouring the good times and good people and can look back years later and wonder and yearn.

We need to strike a balance of not looking back to the point where we force ourselves into a second youth but attack, whatever our age, with the appropriate level of dynamism.

My poor friends, their flash is fading. I think this Boulevardier needs to sit down with them and help them to accept the displacement age brings with grace and class.

TNW

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10156725/Top-40-signs-of-a-midlife-crisis-revealed.html

The top 40 signs of having a midlife crisis

1 Desiring a simpler life

2 Still going to music festivals like Glastonbury

3 Start looking up old boyfriends or girlfriends on Facebook

4 Realise you will never be able to pay off your mortgage

5 Joining Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital

6 Excessively reminisce about your childhood

7 Take no pleasure in your friends’ successes

8 Splashing out on an expensive bicycle

9 Sudden desire to play an instrument

10 Fret over thinning hair

11 Take up a new hobby

12 Want to make the world a better place

13 Longingly look at old pictures of yourself

14 Dread calls at unexpected times from your parents (fearing the worst)

15 Go to reunion tours of your favourite bands from the 70s and 80s

16 Switch from Radio 2 to indie stations like 6 Music

17 Revisit holiday destinations you went to as a child

18 Cannot envisage a time when you will be able to afford to retire

19 Read obituaries in the newspapers with far greater interest — and always check how people die

20 Obsessively compare your appearance with others the same age

21 Start dyeing your hair when it goes grey

22 Stop telling people your age

23 Dream about being able to quit work but know that you’ll Just never be able to afford to

24 Start taking vitamin pills

25 Worry about being worse off in your retirement than your parents

26 Want to change your friends but don’t meet anyone new that you like

27 Think about quitting your Job and buying a bed & breakfast or a pub

28 Flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years your Junior

29 Look up your medical symptoms on the internet

30 Start thinking about going to church but never act on it

31 Always note when politicians or business leaders are younger than you

32 Contemplate having a hair transplant or plastic surgery

33 Take out a direct debit for a charity

34 Can’t sleep because of work worries

35 Hangovers get worse and last more than a day on occasions

36 Constantly compare your career success with your friends

37 Worry about a younger person taking your Job

38 Take up triathlons or another extreme sport

39 Find that you are very easily distracted

40 Realise that the only time you read books is when you are on holiday