Hum Buggery and Dyking the Halls

Aren’t Sunday mornings just the best? I always set my alarm for 8.30am to wake and publish my weekly blog, and then try and spend a couple of hours still wrapped in the warmth and protection of my duvet sipping Assam tea and eating hot buttered toast. A boulevardier should relish these moments of extravagance.

As I languished in my decadence my thoughts turned to the evening ahead. I was looking forward to travelling to Brighton to catch up with a longstanding school friend, Sarah, and watch a Christmassy anti Christmas show hosted by the phenomenons that are VG Lee and Rose Collis.

I was ready to Bah Humbuggers or Dyke the Halls and join these two talented lesbians in their show. The title itself had caused some controversy in a more sensitive area of society, but I shall not discuss that here.

After fiddling around with my social media for some time and see Friends of Ally Pally retweet my blog and have it included in an online publication, The Daily Snapper, I could rise happy.

It was 11am and time for daily ablutions.

After a long soak in the bath, and another cup of Assam, I needed to decide what to wear. The temperatures were plummeting as they do in December and I didn’t want to be cold but wanted to be cool. After considering several options I settled upon a pair of grey jeans, grey desert boots with swirling circular patterns, black Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and a multi coloured H&M sweater.

With the trusty quiff revitalised it was time to go. As I closed the front door at 2.30pm it wasn’t as cold as I had imagined, and even better, the sun was low but out. I had earlier thought it was a grey day from my bed. The combination of clouds, blue skies and low sun made some beautiful shapes in the sky. This year we have been most fortunate in England with bright skies. Usually autumn is a grey sunless season. I have quite taken to capturing photos of the cloud formations and posting them through Instagram to Twitter and Facebook.

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A good friend Sammy Jo noticed my passion and text a couple of weeks ago asking ‘Have you given up work and are now a photographer specialising in skies?’ She followed this a few days later with ‘Your sky photos are getting a bit like selfies!!!lol!’

To which I responded ‘Shall we call them cloudies?’ And thus the cloudie was born. Not sure it’s trending yet, but I will persevere.

I boarded the train at Victoria and managed to secure a facing seat with table. I switched on my Kindle and decided to start rereading A Christmas Carol. I thought it rather apt when heading to an event containing BAH HUMBUGGERS in its title.

Starting A Christmas Carol on the 1st Sunday of Advent seemed fitting when en route to a Christmassy anti Christmas show. I smiled to myself and popped another Minstrel in my mouth. I tried to remember the original advertising and I think it was ‘They melt in your mouth and not in your hand.’

It was a little after 5pm and Sarah and I met and went straight to the Emporium Theatre. We were so early that the afternoon tea dance had barely finished. We found a comfortable corner booth and caught up on the last six months’ news since we’d last seen each other.

The Emporium Theatre started life as a Methodist Chapel at the end of the 19th Century but looks more like a gothic church. The main café area is where the main church aisle and alter once lived and is a wonderful large open space with high ceilings. Rather than pews there are less uniform booths, long worn leather sofas and dining sets. The serving area is abundant with lots of home cooked cakes and goodies. We ordered in abundance.

Our creamy, hot, yellow and plentiful scrambled eggs soon arrived which tasted delicious and was washed down with several large glasses of hearty red wine.

The team looked distinctly aloof and anti Christmassy before the show.

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It wasn’t long before we were called forward to enter the theatre at the back of the building. The stage was simple with two chairs, a small table with a half full bottle of Sherry (I knew VG was in the house as she is, like me, rather partial to Sherry), another table with a jar of pickled onions on a potty on it, a couple of music stands and Bud the Banjolele (Rose’s instrument).

It was rather chilly in the theatre and all patrons pulled their scarves and coats back on. Was this to add to the Christmassy anti Christmas atmosphere? No, it appeared that the heating had failed. The lovely Emporium served up free hot drinks at the interval to help warm everyone up.

Rose entered the stage looking very smart in a formal tuxedo with tails. Rose treated us to anecdotes about her famous pickled onions and a number of facts dispelling the myths of Christmas. Did you know the concept of sending cards at Christmas was a shrewd business move from the originator of the Penny Post?

Rose then picked up her Banjolele and beautifully sang a couple of feet tapping numbers.

Val (VG) Lee entered stage right with a richly tapestried dressing gown, rollers and her fluffy pussy. Val had previously, and rather salaciously, advertised her fluffy pussy. I might call it a stuffed cat.

Val mesmerised us with an epic tale of friendship amid her friend Deidre’s worship of department store bed linen. Val’s delivery as ever was animated and full of comic timing. The audience roared with laughter. Val even mentioned that she could hear my laugh above all others. I think this was a compliment.

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Val then sat down with Rose and interviewed her in a Parky kind of way. Rose gave us some more facts including some wonderful gift suggestions. My favourite was the Christmas pudding shaped juggling balls on offer from Marks and Spencer.

In the interval Sarah had more mint tea and I had more refreshing wine. Micra Mary, a good friend of Val’s, who drives a Micra was attired as an Elf and handed around delicious mince pies.

As the second half started Val treated us to information regarding her worst ever present which was a hot water bottle. She tried to trump the gift giver the following year with a tea cosy.

There were more tales and songs from Rose and VG read her solo erotica story, which had the audience blushing and roaring with laughter in equal measure.

We were on a high and when Rose picked up Bud the Banjolele and started playing Merry Christmas Everyone (accompanied by VG’s backing harmonies while wearing Elf ears) we all joined in the merriment and raised the rafters with our rousing chorus’.

After a brief encore and a couple of extra choruses we all left with a fine Christmas spirit. Had they failed in their mission to Bah our Humbug? Not at all. These great raw performers had put on a great show and we understood them both a little better and left sated with wine, food and song.

The show is on at The Hideaway, Jazz Club, Streatham on 15th December. There are tickets still available and your Boulevardier highly recommends you see it. If you’re lucky you might even see some of Val’s on stage dance moves!

TNW

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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

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

You say tom-ate-o and I say tom-art-o

Arguments have long endured between the British and Americans concerning correct class, etiquette pronunciation and tradition.

I certainly held my sword aloft to this debate when I recently hosted a good friend Joe for a couple of weeks. He is American.

I quite happily quoted Downton Abbey, Tea With Mussolini and other worthy and valuable rules books at him when it suited my purpose.

Did not the Dowager Countess profess in Downton Abbey ‘You Americans never understand the importance of tradition.’

I somehow can’t remember Shirley MacLaine’s response.

I have a great greeting card which questions

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Cher was not invited to the picnic in Tea With Mussolini, as according to Maggie Smith, the ‘Americans simply don’t understand picnics’, and was criticised for buying a knickerbocker glory or ‘that American Monstrosity’. Maggie confirmed that ‘they (Americans) can even vulgarise ice cream!’

I love America and have spent significant time there over the years and enjoy immersing in their culture. However, they do get rather antsy when talking about tradition. Great Britain has been great for a long time and had opportunity to develop, enhance and refine tradition. Perhaps our friends from across the pond should look and learn.

Is the difference in language? We seem to speak the same words but in different order and with apparent misspelling (theirs).

From their fannies (our posteriors) to our fags, (their derogatory word for gays) to our vest (their undershirt or wifebeater), to our wifebeater (a slang term for Stella Artois lager). American vests are our waistcoats, and our braces their suspenders, and our suspenders their garter belts.

It’s no wonder conversations are oft difficult. It reminds me of spending afternoons drinking with a group of Glaswegian friends, whose accents grow stronger and they talk faster with each passing drink. After a short time I always hope I am nodding and smiling in the right places.

So I asked Joe for his 5 points of commentary on the differences or challenges he faced while in England. I will try and offer a suitable answer to each.

1)      Air-conditioning: Admittedly, I grew up in the Southern US and always seem to find myself living in places that are warm and muggy, except during the deep freeze of February. So, I like my air-conditioning. Unfortunately, the London Underground and other enclosed public spaces don’t seem to share my love of things cool. It’s about time that England joined the rest of us in the 21st century and condition the air supply. I’m not saying they have to crank the thermostat down to sub-arctic conditions, but a little cool air is refreshing when one is packed into a carriage with 100 other sweaty people. I was there in September, and that was bad enough. I can just imagine what it’s like at the peak of summertime with tourists so thick you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting 50 of them.

Boulevardier: It is rare that air conditioning is necessitated in the United Kingdom. For the few days a year when it would be useful we would rather protect our atmosphere rather than risk contributing to the ozone layer. But fear not Joe, we are always cool. Rest assured that our styling is carefully plucked and arranged to ensure cool at all times.

2)      Ice: Water, water everywhere, and nary a drop frozen. The US traveller will learn very soon to ask for “extra” ice in their drinks. Otherwise, you’ll just get a cube or two. I’m surprised pubs and the like haven’t caught on that there is less liquid poured into a glass that’s full of ice. Less liquid, higher profit margin; it’s simple economics.

Boulevardier: As a frequent visitor to the USA I am overwhelmed with the amount of ice in drinks. I can barely get to the drink sprinkled lightly between the ice cubes. Perhaps this is why Americans are quite quick to involve support organisations such as AA. I mean if you are able to actually get to the drink between the ice you must have a problem.

3)    Language: George Bernard Shaw purportedly said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Don’t even try to call out an Englishman when he’s made a grammatical gaffe; it’s a battle you will never win, even if you are correct. It is, after all, “their” language. I mean who cares if the major contributors to modern English were the Angles, Jutes, Danes, Norse, Romans, and French? Sadly, the original inhabitants’ Celtic has long been phased out of modern English vocabulary, with only traces of its syntax remaining. However, I digress.

The English know everything there is to know about their language; and other speakers of English from, say, the US (aka speakers of English as a foreign language) will never be able to comprehend the complex nature of the language. Just smile and nod.

Boulevardier: I think you make my argument quite succinctly. Unlike you and your fellow countrymen I do know when to keep quiet.

4) Tipping: Don’t tip in pubs, unless you have food. Round up to tip the cab driver unless he/she assists you with your bags, then it’s a pound per bag. Some restaurants include the tip on the bill, some don’t. Look, either do like the US where everyone sticks their hand out for money regardless of how much or how little service they have provided, irrespective of the quality, OR just do away with tipping all together. Who can remember all the rules for how much to tip because of convoluted tipping customs that would require a dissertation to explain?

Boulevardier: On this point I am happy to agree. Tipping here is confusing. Perhaps we should not have attempted to mimic your ways.

5) Public Transportation: I know I’ve been winging (that’s ‘complaining’ for you non-native speakers) about things I feel would improve England, but I have to say London’s public transport has got it right this time. Convenient, efficient, and for the most part, timely, London’s underground, rail, and bus service is on the mark. I never had to wait more than a few minutes for a train or bus, and it’s fairly simple to navigate. Although a bit pricier than public transport in the US, it’s well worth the little extra cost. I was never more than a few minutes’ walk from a station or stop. I think almost every major city in the US could learn a lesson from London, if they could only get that air-conditioning issue sorted out.

Boulevardier: Agreed. We agree on two of your five points. It was rather lovely when you even knew the times of the W7 bus to and from Crouch End. They come every few minutes so we natives just turn up and ride.

So the war is far from over and Americans may have size, voice and an air of entitlement but it’s no match for our class, style, tradition and age. All in my own humble opinion of course.

TNW

Rules of a displaced Boulevardier

To celebrate over six months of weekly blogging I thought it was time to share with you the very essence of a displaced Boulevardier.

The trusty World Wide Web tells us that a Boulevardier is a man who promenades the fashionable streets of Paris. In other words an urbane, fashionable city dweller, who is usually of higher class and has knowledge of the city, and in particular how to find the best advanced cultural entertainment.

I do think that Crouch End is a suitable replacement for Paris. I also just about manage to replicate the criteria albeit in a displaced fashion.

I will now enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you by providing the seven areas of consideration in my self help guide.   

Hair

A Boulevardier, however displaced, should have a good head of hair. This should be coiffured into a chic style. The quiff is a good example of en vogue tresses, which equally retains a classic and classy element.

Regular visits to the salon are also required. Barbers do serve a purpose, but seem to deal more in volume sheerings than dazzling creations.

The most important part of the appointment is the initial consultation. It is not enough to provide the instruction

‘Just a trim please.’

The Tonsorial Artist will perform much better with a detailed description of each area of the how the cutting should take place for each area of the head.

For example ‘Please don’t cut any length from the front and top. The sides and back should be much shorter, and as short as possible without showing the scalp, and disconnected from the top rather than graduated.’

Healthy (some might say excessive) attention to clothing

Fashion is constantly changing and evolving, and while it would be fantastic to keep right up to the minute with every microscopic change it’s simply not practical. It is important to ensure sartorial sophistication exudes from your wardrobes and this can be achieved by developing your own essence of cool. Of course this will be wrapped around various genres, from hippie to punk, but it will be your own.

A cautionary note should be added. Please check with your friends and family first to validate your ability for natural panache, as without this creating your own style could lead to disaster.

Adding the right and the right number of accessories is vital. Think jewellery, manbag (to manbag or to not?), and shades. Shades are mandatory and the choice should be around which pair to wear.

And contrary to popular belief a man can never have enough shoes.

Social Media Presence            

Updating social media is an art. Each tweet, status update or photo should be interesting and make the reader or viewer wish they were in your world.

For instance if you wake feeling too tired to get up, then you post should read something like the following

‘Decadently lounging in bed savouring endless cups of tea.’

Timing your updates is also key and ensuring you still pay sufficient attention to any company you are keeping. It’s not wise to constantly update when you are in a social situation but sometimes needs must. Much will depend on the duration of your social intercourse. If you are meeting for a short lunch then it’s probably not prudent to be constantly tapping your phone or tablet, but if it’s a longer affair then it’s only reasonable to keep in touch with your wider circle.

Theatre, concerts and the arts

Regular visits to all manner of cultural events are required and enjoyed. Crouch End is vibrant with its own annual arts festival, and with so many nearby local theatres there is always something to watch and enjoy.

From the revue showings of new plays in bars to the acoustic music sessions in the cafes there is always something on.

These experiences should enrich your cultural conversational referencing.

We even had crocheted squares and woven pompoms decorating the trees and railings near the Clock Tower this summer.

Immergence and appreciation of all artistic expression is required.

Elegant Hosting

This is the area of Boulevarding (I think I just invented a new verb!) I struggle with most. The kitchen is not my natural sanctuary. If you think Carrie from Sex and the City, and her redundant kitchen you won’t be too far from the truth. However, I would like to protest that it is almost sacrilegious to stay in when there are global gastronomical opportunities minutes from my residence. Crouch End is bountiful with eateries. Everything from Caribbean fusion to Pan Asian via Spain, Italy, Turkey and Japan to name just a few.

The hosting at my home is finer tuned to thirst quenching and entertainment. My piano forte is often in use.

Drink Sherry and Tanqueray

A preferred tipple which coincidently sets you aside from the pack is also a bonus.

Sherry has certainly made a comeback in recent years, and our palates have been warmed to an excellent Fino or a darker Amontillado. Sherry is an elegant drink to enjoy and certainly raises the eyebrows of most bar staff when requested.

However, while it has been revived Sherry is not freely available. It is therefore important to have an alternate in mind. I oft for Tanqueray a lesser known London gin. My spirit of choice has long been gin, and I really don’t like the taste of the default Gordons. Amy Winehouse introduced me to the joys of Tanqueray when she sang of it in her track You Know I’m No Good.

If in doubt ask ‘What would Amy do?’

Replace ‘Amy’ with your own hero but it has to be someone qualified in style, cool and presence.

I hope my short and perhaps self-indulgent guide spurs some of you into the joys of Boulevardier hood.

TNW

North Marine Drive

I waited outside the school gates for Heather at the beginning of lunchtime. It had been easier to coordinate lunch in the 3rd year as we were in the same set and had the same lessons. The 4th year was the start of our ‘O’ Level options and as we had chosen differently had to plan meeting up at breaks.

At registration that morning she had tantalised me with news that she had new music from her older super cool sister who was at University. We were predominantly listening to The Smiths and Simple Minds until Helen, the older sister, had introduced us to Freur and their electronic album Doot Doot. In the same vein I hoped the new music would be original and something off the wall.

Heather appeared and immediately passed her school books to me. Heather was a young lady and preferred to carry a small, impractical for school books, picnic basket which housed her hairbrush and make up. I didn’t mind as my bag was much bigger and I was stronger. We had been good friends for over a year after Heather dated one of my school friends. They split but we stayed friends.

We hurried the 10 minute walk to her parents’ house, and I retrieved my cheese sandwiches my mum had prepared that morning. Cheese was my preferred sandwich with prawn cocktail crisps, penguin and apple. I sometimes varied the cheese sandwich with cream cheese. Heather went into the lounge and hit play on the large silver coloured ghetto blaster.

Brass instruments hit my ears followed by a distinct jazzy beat, and then the silky voice of Tracey Thorn ‘If you ever feel the time, to drop me a loving line.’

WOW!

WOW!

This was jazz, and I liked The Smiths. But there was something so unique and so simple. I didn’t like jazz. It wasn’t cool, but this was something else. It sounded like jazz but as the tracks flowed it was clear that there was a darker sound to the voice. I needed to get a copy.

My new sound stayed with me through the day, and Heather had promised to make a copy for me that evening. I got Everything But The Girl’s album Eden on one side and Ben Watt’s solo album North Marine Drive on the other. It’s funny that we talk today about illegal downloads, but either recording from the radio or tape to tape copying was commonplace in the 1980s.

The beginning to Eden gets me every time, even to this day. It’s so powerful and pure, and transports me to a different place and time.

Ben’s solo album is more raw, and a collection of melancholic but picturesque (however bleak) tracks. As a somewhat morose teenager at times, this fitted perfectly and provided a companion (alongside Morrissey) to the problems and depressions associated with growing up.

I never got to see Ben Watt or Tracey Thorn live either individually or collectively as Everything But the Girl. Concerts weren’t so accessible then. In fact I didn’t go to concerts until I was in my early 20s. I was not in the know to find out about concerts and rarely read NME so didn’t see any EBTG concerts advertised. My Boulevardier qualities were in their infancy. EBTG were silent popstars. Today the words silent and popstar create an oxymoron. EBTG were not emblazoned across the front of every newspaper, falling out of clubs or selling their souls. They just made music.

So that was that! I still loved and consistently listened to particularly Eden and North Marine Drive. It was such a relief when these albums were released on CD. CDs were more durable, and every time I played the tapes I feared it would be their last.

Earlier this year, Ben Watt posted on Twitter that he was performing a couple of acoustic concerts, at small venues. These would be the first solo gigs of this nature since the early 1980s. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted tickets and booked two. I really wanted to ask whether he would be playing some of the older stuff, but I always sensed they were not sentimental and preferred not to look back. This was confirmed by Tracey Thorn earlier in the year when I asked her at her book reading about touring and playing some of the earlier ETBG material.

Ben asked on Twitter who was coming to the gigs, and I responded positively. Justin, my good friend who was coming with me, stated that he wasn’t sure what to wear. Ben replied saying ‘It’ll be hot, so keep it simple.’

Fashion advice from Ben Watt on Twitter.

I decided to keep it really simple and wore denim shorts, sandals and a Jimi Hendrix T shirt. I met Justin at Old Street underground station, and he was wearing a long sleeved, but thin, sweater, jeans and silver pointy shoes. He was also carrying a jacket. A Jacket! It was still about 24 degrees. I did have an H&M graffiti hoodie around my waist but a jacket. We laughed and joked as we bound along Old Street expectant of a great gig.

The venue, interestingly called The Venue is a downstairs room at The Slaughtered Lamb Public House in Clerkenwell. The pub itself is a large square room with a mish mash of aging leather sofas and unpolished wooden tables and chairs. Justin walked in and instantly greeted the barman. Was he a regular? No, it was a friend he didn’t know worked there!

After quenching our thirst on delicious wine and beer, respectively not subsequently, we walked downstairs to the Venue. Two heavy dark wood doors opened into a medium sized dark room. At one end was the bar and the performance area. This was not a stage as it was not raised. It actually looked like a guitar shop as there were 6 guitars all lined up ready for use, along with a mandolin, keyboard, mikes and amps. One solitary standard lamp rather frayed at the edges lit the corner. In front of the stage were a number of small stools, and we selected the second row. The Venue gradually filled and started to heat up. Ben was right with his advice! I wondered if Justin rued wearing a sweater. Both our jacket and hoodie were redundant and on the floor.

At just after 8.30 Ben appeared to applause. He didn’t bask in the applause and instead offered simple non-verbal gratitude and sat at the keyboard and shared one of his new tracks with us.

Wow! It was fantastic. The sound more mature than his early solo material, but still full of emotion. His voice still as unique and haunting as it ever was.

Someone called Bernard joined him to play on a few tracks. Ben joked that Bernard hadn’t had time to learn them all. I wasn’t aware at the time but this was Bernard Butler from 90s fame and acclaim.

Ben warmed up and as he did engaged more and explained his journey back to music. He hadn’t written any new tracks for a number of years and was suddenly hit by inspiration earlier in the year. It was good to know that even the great and successful artists found it difficult to write when consumed with other projects. I have previously written here that my passion for the commercial world stifled and stunted my create writing. I am working hard at redressing this balance.

Ben hinted that if he was brave enough he would play a few of his old tracks. My excitement intensified. Was I really going to hear live interpretations of some of the sounds of my youth.

Ben continued playing some beautiful new tracks, mostly with the same gloom and angst present throughout his early work. Songs such as Golden Ratio, The Levels, Nathaniel we will always love you, and Bricks and Wood, or was it Wood and Bricks, spring to mind.

Ben announced that he had not played the next track to an audience in over 30 years. As soon as the first few melancholy plucked notes hit my ears, I knew we were in for the treat that is Walter and John.

Ben then played Somethings Don’t Matter and North Marine Drive, which are two of my favourite tracks from his North Marine Drive album. Ben forgot some words halfway through North Marine Drive, but it really didn’t matter. It felt like we were sharing a journey with him, and in doing so he was fulfilling my journey which started with these tracks over 30 years ago. This evening was a precious moment in time.

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The temperature in the room was akin to a sauna, but it somehow didn’t matter.

After a few more new tracks and a keyboard version of On Box Hill Ben’s first solo concert in over 30 years was over, and an amazing success. He even quipped that it wasn’t as tough as he had expected! And that he would be in the studio from September and hoped to release some new material next spring.

Ben came back into the room after the concert and it gave me a chance to say thank you in person.

A fantastic evening coupling a trip down remembrance avenue and some new fantastic material.

TNW

A Few Days Away

Last Sunday I was enjoying a lovely cup of Assam in bed perusing the weather predictions for the next few days, and of course in true UK style it said ‘unsettled’. I had a few days off work and planned to travel to Essex and then the South Coast. I pulled my black leather holdall from atop the wardrobe and went to shower. As Arrow’s Hot Hot Hot blasted from my docking station, I realised that whilst only a few days away, I would need a suitcase and a multitude of outfits, due to the weather. See previous blog regarding packing to understand my thought process here…

With a rather heavy suitcase packed I drove to Sible Hedingham, where I spend a beautiful afternoon and evening with great friends. We caught up over several Tanqueray and tonics and a couple of bottles of wine. The weather was stunning and we sat in the garden right through into the evening.

I had arranged bed and breakfast at a local farm, and walked back there at midnight. Unfortunately a Boulevardier sometimes forgets that outside of London, and particularly in the country, streetlamps don’t light your every step. The vague light of occasional yellow streetlamps provided little assistance along the unknown path.

I made it back unscathed and heard conversation in the lounge, but went straight up the stairs to a beautiful twin room and to bed.

I woke to the sound of cocks crowing. At 5am! I managed to get back to sleep and had planned breakfast at 8.30. The hostess had asked the previous day when I wanted breakfast and I therefore came down as planned. She informed me it would now likely be 8.45am, to coincide with the other residents, as bacon tasted so much better when freshly cooked. I took a turn around the lounge, and was thankful that there was a nip in the air and we were not having breakfast outside, as there was a horrid chicken and three chicks parading in the back garden. This Boulevardier has an absolute and irrational fear of all feathered creatures. And I am not sure why anyone would want them in the back garden in any event!

At 8.45 on the dot breakfast was announced, and I was guided into the kitchen diner and welcomed to the head of the long heavy oak table. There were to be four other guests and we were to have breakfast at the same table. I braced myself for morning conversation with strangers.To the garden side there was not a wall but heavy concertinaed double-glazed glass doors, which were open, and therefore only a few feet between me and the bloody chickens. I tried to not raise too much panic in my voice but left the hostess in no doubt that the doors needed to be closed urgently! She left the bacon and hurriedly sealed my safety while giving me an odd side look. She did not share my fear of would be killers!

I sat and braced myself for the arrival of fellow diners, and first through the door were two teenagers, who from their dishevelled appearance had literally fallen from bed to the table. This did not stop their polite chatter. They were followed by two men. We all introduced ourselves and set out reasons for our trips. The two boys were not brothers but travelling with their respective fathers who were both previously married, divorced and now married to each other. I was pleased to see the ‘New Normal’ family unit so comfortably shared outside the acceptance of the Metropolis.

With a full stomach and some great tunes I donned my Ray Bans and travelled the short distance to Bury St Edmunds to have a lovely long lunch catch up with an old school friend. We had not seen each other for over 20 years, but the years melted away. There was no awkwardness which time apart can sometimes create. We chatted and the hours elapsed all too quickly. With promises of meeting up again soon, I was back in the car and on the longer journey to Hastings.

My hotel choice was somewhere between 2 and 3 star, so I was not expecting luxury. The reception area was pleasant enough, and after checking in and being shown to my room I realised there were no towels! This was quickly remedied after a trip to reception, but really no towels! Pretty fundamental I thought, and hoped this was not a harbinger for my stay.

To assist with recovery I needed some liquid refreshment, and fortune shined upon me as I had arranged to meet the author VG Lee for a rather large gin and tonic on the lovely hotel terrace. There was no Tanqueray but Bombay Sapphire sufficed.

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We then promenaded along the promenade enjoying the evening sun. In fact the unsettled weather wasn’t really unsettled at all. Indeed it had been rather pleasant.

VG recommended a fish restaurant, Webbes. After perusing a vast menu we made our choices, accompanied, obviously, by a good bottle of wine. We both decided on fresh battered haddock and chips. This was served with mushy peas which VG did not want. It was a rather entertaining conversation which ensued with the student waiter.

‘Is there an alternative to mushy peas by any chance?’

‘They only come in a small ceramic pot on the side of the plate.’

‘That’s fine, but I don’t want them. I wondered if there is an alternative.’

Blank look from waiter. I looked at the menu and suggested that there were green beans as a side dish.

‘Yes,’ said VG ‘Could I please have a few green beans in place of the mushy peas?’

‘Green beans are a side dish.’

‘Yes I know. I wondered if I could substitute the mushy peas for a few green beans.’

‘They are a side dish and come in a separate dish, so you would need to order them in addition.’

VG ordered her side dish and the waiter left the table. We both joked at the service, which wasn’t bad, but VG wasn’t asking for gold plate, but a few cheap, regular green beans. Our evening continued in a jolly fashion and we shared many laughs, complemented by delicious fresh food, and a second bottle of wine. I was led astray by VG.

We watched the sun set, and with it the other patrons and tables gradually disappear. Apparently life in Hastings stops at 10pm on a Monday. How quaint I thought while mentally noting that this would not suit a Boulevardier on a regular basis.

We walked back a little tipsy. We passed the ironically named New Town. Ironic as it’s Victorian!

The next morning I went down to breakfast, which was not included in the room rate. There is a 20% breakfast discount to residents which I thought strange as the hotel restaurant and bar is advertised as only being open to residents between 11pm and 12pm. I decided to investigate with the reception.

‘Good morning. Why is there an advertised 20% discount to residents for breakfast?’

‘Good morning. We like to give a special deal to all our guests.’

‘Is breakfast available all day then?’

‘No, only until 11am.’

‘But your sign indicates that only residents are allowed in the restaurant until 12pm’

‘Yes.’

‘Midday?’

‘No, midnight.’

‘But midnight is 12am!’ I did enjoy pointing out in a lovely humble manner.

‘Oh no,’ she laughed ‘we’ve been using that sign for months, and were wondering why the morning trade had fallen off! Thank you so much for pointing it out.’

With a good deed completed before 9am and the sunshine and only a gentle sea breeze I walked out onto the front terrace and ordered a tea (no Assam) and a vegetarian breakfast. I looked out to sea and watched a distant tanker far out at sea and a solitary closer sail boat drift by.

Two other older couples joined me on the terrace. The ones closest to me talked rather loudly, and as I speared a grilled tomato revealed to his companion the level to which his wound was oozing that morning… I do think a Boulevardier should be entitled to his own terrace, so as not to suffer such ear violence.

Before heading back to the sanctity of Crouch End I had one final day catching up with a lovely friend in Goring. The unsettled weather stayed away and we enjoyed a lovely beach walk and afternoon tea with massive cream cakes. I am partial to a cream slice.

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We were Weight Watching, or rather watching our weight increase! Next week I will definitely be enjoying, or enduring, depending on your perspective – lettuce leaves only…

TNW