Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Feeling Christmassy

The nights are getting longer and the mornings colder. My walk to work yesterday elicited my first Christmassy shiver of excitement; but this year is going to be better than any other, Patrick and I will be living together officially, and I'll be in a house that's mine. I walked down Habershon street imagining things like: where the Christmas tree will go, what extra decorations we'll need to buy, where I can hide Patrick's gifts, taking my game pie out of the oven in my own little kitchen, having a lovely brandy and coke on a Friday night after work and cwtshing in with Patrick to watch It's a Wonderful Life... cheesy, I know, but I don't care. I'm so happy I could pop.

I've even been listening to Christmassy music. Not your usual Slade and Bing Crosby, I've been listening to The Sixteen's amazing LP Christmas Music from Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. It's so beautiful and soothing. Here is an mp3 of one of my favourite tracks - Videte Miraculum (the hosting site is not very good, or accessible I'm afraid - but at least you're getting a lovely mp3 out if it). It was written by Thomas Tallis for Queen Elizabeth in the 1500s; he is one of my favourite composers. I've just bought this off Amazon and I can't wait for it to arrive.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Leather Boys (1964 film)

I'm having a bit of an old-gay-film fest at the moment; I’ve watched The Leather Boys, A Taste of Honey, and have Pink Narcissus and Derek Jarman’s seminal Sebastian lined up (although I have seen that before).

I only knew about The Leather Boys film because of The Smiths video for Girlfriend in a Coma, and even then didn’t know that it was a classic example of early gay cinema disguised as yet another kitchen sink drama. The book was written in 1961 by Gillian Freeman at the request of her agent and publisher Anthony Blond, who suggested she write about a "Romeo and Romeo in the South London suburbs". She published it as Eliot George (after Mary Ann Evans, who published as George Eliot), possibly to distance herself form such an obvious homosexual work. Unfortunately, I saw the film before I read the book, but I do have a copy of the book which I bought immediately after seeing the film. I know the film and book differ greatly, so this review is just about the film; I’ll review the book separately.

The Leather Boys was one of the first films to violate the Hollywood Production Code (according to Wikipedia), and having read the code, I’m glad it did. It starts innocently enough: a young couple (Reggie, a mechanic and dark-haired Dot, a schoolgirl) get engaged then quickly married, and there is a wonderful sequence where the wedding party all get on a red London double-decker to get to the reception. The couple then go to Butlins on Reggie’s motorbike, and they go to bed on their first night of married life. I have to point out at this point that the title is misleading; many of the boys in the film wear motorbike leathers, but most of the angst and tension of the film occurs when at least one of the main characters is wearing a nice wool jumper, or pyjamas. It’s very British, and I think the title was chosen by Freeman’s publisher in order to sell more books.
The honeymoon doesn’t go according to plan, as it rains solidly for three days (see? Very British!) and Reggie doesn’t want to leave the room, or indeed the bed. They talk idly of having a baby next year, but Dot soon has enough. The next day she goes to the hairdresser and bleaches her hair blonde, Reggie doesn’t like it. They end up arguing and shouting and Reggie ends up staying at his Gran’s house after his Granddad dies, while Dot refuses to move from their bed-sitter. Reggie befriends a blonde young man, who wears leathers and has a powerful motorbike. Pete and Reggie soon become best friends and Reggie persuades Pete to move in with him in Gran’s house as a lodger to give Gran some income. Gran loves Pete, who is cheeky and loving to her, bringing her sweets and kissing her head. Reggie and Pete decide to go on a run to Edinburgh and back with a gang of other bikers from the biker bar they all hang out in. The bar is adorable, when Dot and Reggie arrive at the bar during an early scene, Reggie asks for two cups of tea and the lady replies “eightpence dear.” I wish I could go to that bar.
Dot cheats on Reggie (with Mike Baldwin from Coronation Street) and the relationship goes down the tubes, helped along by Pete. Pete is a very different homosexual from Geoffrey Ingham (A Taste of Honey, 1961). Pete is queeny, repressed and flamboyant, and Geoff is reserved and dignified yet still camp and artistic. Pete is obviously in love with Reggie, which is why he does his best to keep him away from Dot. Reggie has no idea that the man sharing the spare bedroom of his Gran’s house is gay and in love with him. Pete comes up with a way for them to be together, he says they should jump on a boat and sail away to America. I think he sees this as a romantic way for them to be together, and if Reggie agrees then he truly does want to be with Pete. Them sailing away has become, in Pete’s mind, them being together as a couple. Pete never actually states that he is gay, nor does the film ever confirm that he is, yet it is meant to be obvious that the audience know his sexual orientation – and thereby his feelings for and towards Reggie.
I think that Reggie might have let something happen, he’d already asked, in a round-a-bout way, if Pete was gay; this was prompted by Dot’s angry statement “Looked more like a couple o’ queers to me.” So long as both men did not admit anything to each other, then they could have this best friend, brotherly relationship that involved them sleeping in the same bed; looking after each other; sailing away together. Reggie finally decides that he wants to sail away from his life, that he has nothing to stay for, so he informs Pete who promptly packs in his job and they go to buy tickets. Pete tells Reggie to go for a drink in the pub at the docks and wait for him.
This is where Pete and Reggie’s fragile ur-relationship breaks. Reggie is surrounded by the kind of simpering gay man people were used to seeing on the screen in the 60s. Awful queeny stereotypes, all limp wrists and speaking in Polari (old British gay slang from the 50s and 60s) who swarm around Reggie, interested to see Pete’s new ‘companion’. A bald man with a terrible Welsh accent laughs when he sees Pete in biker leathers, and he says “oh, and in that drag!” which implies that Pete does not normally wear biker leathers, but he has been wearing them to be friends with Reggie. Reggie looks to Pete for help, but realises Pete knows these men and accepts a drink of gin off the bald man. Reggie then learns that the ship is going to Cardiff not America, again he questions Pete, but Pete replies that Reggie wanted to leave immediately and that was the first ship to leave.
It all becomes too much for Reggie: the old queens draping themselves on his shoulders, staring at him, a seeming betrayal from his best friend, so he takes his suitcase and leaves the pub. Pete runs after him to try and stop him. Reggie turns to look at Pete; he now knows that Pete is gay, and that he is in love with him. Reggie smiles sadly, and Pete returns the smile. Reggie walks away. It is a terribly sad ending (but homosexuals weren’t allowed happy endings back then), but not hopelessly so. Reggie doesn’t hate Pete; his sad smile is for what could have been, if both he and the world were different. I think Reggie might have been happy with Pete, maybe not forever, and probably not in a sexual way – but his companionship would have been enough. When Pete finally decided to let Reggie into his world, gay pubs, Polari, queens, it was too much for him.

It’s a great film, with some lovely comedic moments, and more than a few tragic moments too. The acting and script are of a high enough standard; but as a queer movie-goer viewing the film now, it seems that there is something missing. I’m sure the studio had a lot to do with how the openly-gay men were portrayed (terrible Welsh accents and all), and how the story ended. I hope the book ends on a happier note, or if I’ll have to re-read E.M. Forster’s Maurice again afterwards.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Taste of Honey

I recently watched Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey again; I wanted to watch it again as I'd been talking about landmarks in gay cinema with friends, of which A Taste of Honey is certainly a major one. It was originally written as a play that was first staged in 1958; this was adapted into a film and released in 1961. 

I first saw it about five years ago, and found it very depressing. I know that kitchen sink dramas of the time were meant to be gritty and real, and dealt with the ordinary events of everyday life; but this film felt, to me, at odds to that. The story is simple enough:
A selfish forty year old woman does a ‘moonlight flit’ with her awkward seventeen year old daughter named Jo. We learn that Helen, the mother, has had a string of boyfriends and regularly leaves Jo on her own. Helen has a younger boyfriend named Peter, he and Jo do not take to each other at all. Jo meets a black sailor, Jimmy, and while her mother and Peter get married and leave her on her own again, she finds comfort in Jimmy’s arms. Jimmy buys Jo a ring from Woolworths and asks her to marry him, but explains that he’ll be away from six months or more.

Jo leaves school, gets a job in a shoe shop and rents a large flat. She befriends a young gay man named Geoffrey, and the pair soon become best friends and Geoff moves in with Jo. Jo tells Geoff that she is pregnant, and Geoff tries to kiss her and asks her to marry him. Geoff and Jo form a kind of parental unit until Helen arrives back on the scene, at Geoff’s request that she come and see her daughter. Helen then pushes Geoff away and out of Jo’s life.

It’s beautifully shot, and there are loads of beautiful framed scenes and great dialogue… but I can’t agree with other reviewers who have called it a comedy, or that it leaves them feeling hopeful. There is only the tiniest amount of hope in the story, that Jo will not turn out like her mother, and that her mixed race baby will have a better life than she had – but there is an equal chance that (without Geoff’s influence) the whole cycle will begin again. The taste of honey of the title is exactly that, just a tiny taste; a few brief months of happiness and tenderness. While Geoffrey lives with Jo and ‘takes her in hand’, that is the first time she's had a family member that she can depend on. Geoff is a mixture of friend, father and mother; Jo herself is unsure of his role and calls him ‘big sister’.

There are two very defined mother figures in the film, and two father figures. Helen and Jo are two very different mothers; one is at the end of her journey as a mother, her daughter is now becoming a mother herself. Helen does not want to be a grandmother, any more than she wanted to be a mother. Peter is a terrible father-figure, and Jo does not know how to behave with him as she has never experienced a father figure. Helen still chooses Peter over her daughter, and only returns to Jo when Peter has kicked her out and gone off with a new woman. The other father figure is Geoff himself - a caring man who wants to be a good father. When Jo asks him "Do you want to be the father of my baby, Geoff?" the way he answers 'yes' is heart-breakingly poignant.

The film is important as it was the first time a gay character was portrayed as the good guy, and not given an unhappy ending as was the norm (e.g. The Leather Boys, 1964) at the time. Of the main characters, Geoff is the most well-rounded. He is artistic and creative, nurturing and fatherly, and desperate to have what heterosexual people have: a partner, a home, a family. His devotion to Jo transcends friendship; I think it represents his strong paternal instinct, to both Jo and her unborn baby. Fathers in the 60s did not bake cakes or clean the house, that was seen as the mother's role; Geoff is portrayed as being a mother-figure through his baking and cleaning. Looking back we can see how sexist this is, fathers are now not only expected to perform those tasks, they are permitted to enjoy them!
Geoff is the only likeable character in the film, and for that I salute Shelagh Delaney. I wish Geoffrey Ingham lived in the 21st Century, he’s the kind of gay man I aspire to be.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Chutney and jelly

Here's my apple and runner bean chutney. It took 2kgs of runner beans, 1kg of apples and 4 massive onions and all I got was eight jars. Tastes lovely though, I used ginger, cinnamon, mace and cumin, and a mixture of cider vinegar and white wine vinegar.

Here's the hedgerow jelly cooking. Windfalls, rose hips and haws.

I got eight jars of jelly too. It's all set, but I want to wait until I've got nice bread before I try it.

Folksy Friday *24th September 2010*

You may or may not know that I’m an Eye Health Promotion Officer and I work for for RNIB Cymru (that’s the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Wales). My job is to ensure that people go and have regular eye tests, especially children and young people. I go out to schools and demonstrate how to guide a blind or partially sighted person, and how we help people with sight problems. I’m always amazed at how few of the children have had a sight test. Sight tests for FREE for children of school age, totally free! They test for three things: Visual acuity, and if there is a need for glasses; that the eyes are developing properly; and they check for any underlying eye conditions. Half of all sight loss is preventable with early diagnosis. That’s right, half. Go and book yourself an eye test today. Tell them I sent you!

The theme this week is ‘eyes’.

Okay, from top left:
Cute steampunk glasses necklace
Fab eye test ring (it's called a Snellen chart, fact fans)
Beautiful and weird glass eye pendant
Art Deco-ish earrings (love this shop!)
Awesome sexy eyes wall decal, so 80s!
A gorgeous little stoneware owl, not strictly eye-related, but owls do have good eyesight! I desperately want one for my new garden, maybe as a Christmas present? (If any of my family or friends are reading this, that was a BIG HINT!)

Buy 'em quick before they go!

Saturday, 18 September 2010


I've had a busy day today. Got up at 7:45 (with a hangover, thanks to Justin), installed my parents' new wireless router, did a shop, picked quince and rose hips from my dad's garden, then went foraging in Cwmfferws for two and half hours. I picked hips, haws and sloes.

Here's where I went walking.

I made friends with some calves. They all came to say hello when I stopped to pick haws from a hawthorn hedge.

I found a geocache. My second ever, yay!

Here are the fruits of my labour. From left: Sloes, haws, quince (from my dad's garden), wild hips, garden hips. I'm going to make sloe gin (or maybe vodka, not too keen on gin), hedgerow jelly and spicy haw ketchup. If I have enough haws left I'm going to try haw brandy, and I'm going to keep the one big quince to make quince ratafia. Hope I have enough jars!

I love foraging. It's a proper back to nature, hunter/gatherer feeling when you find a tree laden with purple fruits. It was lovely to be back in Cwmfferws, my Datcu used to take me and my cousins for walks there when I was small. He used to point out the berries and plants to us, and he'd cut small twigs of a certain tree, strip the bark off and give us them to gnaw on. I have no idea what tree it was, but I remember loving the sweet, green taste of the sap. The public footpath runs over what used to be an open cast coal mine, and you can still see things like old gates and a coal shoot that belonged to the mine. I remember when part of it was landscaped and the council dammed a river. There were three tiny bridges spanning the small river, set in the open landscape. I was amazed at how nature is trying her very best to eradicate any sign of what used to be there, healing the scar in her skin. The trees have nearly taken over again, and there are only small paths running in and out of the undergrowth. It's beautiful.

I picked loads of berries, but made sure to leave enough for other people, and the birds of course! There were so many blackberries that had just been left to wither and dry out. People are forgetting what our ancestors had to do to survive. My sister has picked hundreds of blackberries there in the past month or two, so she's not complaining that there are loads left.

I got a bit scrammed because I forgot my gloves. But I figured a few scrams is totally worth all the lovely fruit I found. Can't wait to start preserving it.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Folksy Friday *17th September 2010*

Real life has got in the way of blogging, Folksy Fridays, Facebook, and all the other internet-related ways I waste my time!
I’m off to West Wales on the train at teatime, ready to go foraging in Cwmfferws. I was there a few weeks ago and there were rose hips, haws, blackberries and all sorts of delicious things nearly ready to pick – and I’ve just been given a big bag of apples (does that count as a bushel?) so I want to make some Hedgerow Jelly. Patrick is taking Poppy the dog for a walk up the mountain to pick rowan berries .
The theme this week, quite aptly, is ‘foraging’.

Okay, from top left:
The cutest cross stitch ring. It has a little acorn. The shop has loads of different designs, from mushrooms and acorns to moustaches and space invaders!
An absolutely adorable ‘crab apple’ sculpture. He’s well cute.
A little expensive, I know, but this silver pear is absolutely gorgeous. I’d love this (if anyone fancies buying it for me?)
More acorns – but they’re made of felt this time. Would look lovely in my forest living room, or perched on an alternative Christmas tree. Very folky.
I want everything in this shop. Really. Have a look at this beautiful walnut hedgerow brooch though, it’s lovely. The foxes are my 2nd favourite from this shop.
10 beautiful ceramic leaves, the shades are all different too. Lovely!

Buy 'em quick before they go!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Tro wristbands *free pattern*

Free pattern for a modern, masculine looking wristband knitted with Turkish Rib. Although I'm sure if you used pretty wool it could look feminine too!

You will need:
4mm straight needles
Less than half a ball of DK yarn (would be nice to use some luxury yarn for this, sadly I don’t have any luxury yarn so I used Sirdar Escape DK)

About 10 sts to 2 inches.
Pattern makes a wristband about 7 inches in diameter (if you need a bigger or smaller size, just CO more or less sts – but make sure it’s a multiple of 2.) I recommend knitting 4 rows of K2, p2 rib and slipping it off the needle. If it fits your writs you’re good to go, if not, CO again with more sts.

CO 32 (use cable CO if you like, I made one with and one without and with a project this small I don't think it really matters).
K2, p2 rib for 3 rows.
K row.
P1, *p2tog, yrn; rep from * to last st, p1
K1, *yf, k2tog; rep from * to last st, k1
Rep last two rows 6 times (or until desired length).
P row.
K12, p2 rib for 3 rows.
BO loosely (I use needles a size or two up as my BO is quite tight).

Sew together into a tube and weave in ends (NB when it’s finished it’s not rectangular, it’s more of a parallelogram; just make sure you seam it the right way!)
Wear with style, or give away as a last-minute gift.

*Tro means ‘turn’ in Welsh, the Turkish Rib turns around your wrist as your wear it. It is pronounced to rhyme with ‘floor’.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Missing streets

They took down a load of streets behind my street. They were on a map dated 1965 and were built in the late 1800s, but are now an industrial estate. If you look closely at Moorland Park you can see the crop lines of the old streets. Where's Tony Robinson when you need him?

I also discovered this evening (thanks to some detective work on Moon Street in Splott was knocked down sometime in the late 50s/early 60s. Here's a picture of it on an old map:

And here's the view looking down Moon Street as it is now:

You can see the grass part curving over the hump where the old road and all the rubble is buried.
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