Had a few quiet days reflecting on the family. We lost Uncle George on Saturday. I suppose it was expected he was eighty-five and had been very frail for a number of years, but it still comes as a shock.
It is the idea that the family is getting smaller. When I was young, naturally we lost grandparents on all sides of the family. No one lasts forever but two generations, it somehow feels distant no less sad at the time, but distant. With Uncle George that’s my father’s generation, it’s his family, his brother in law. My Auntie Nan has been looking after George, caring for him pushing him in a manual wheelchair here there and everywhere for the past few years: she’s made of strong stuff.
And in some ways it comes as a relief, trying to keep him safe from the pandemic and the frustrations of being in lockdown, watching him slowly, ever so slowly deteriorate, must have taken a heavy toll physically and emotionally. Still it is sad and a reminder if ever we needed one of our own mortality. George died in hospital from complications arising from a chest infection, it was not Covid. That comes as something of a relief, he didn’t have that nightmare end that so many have faced, not to mention the added trauma for the loved ones left behind.
We won’t get to the funeral, it will take place down south I’ll send a card and a letter offering my condolences to Nan and the family. I remember in my younger days a trip down south that went awry somehow and both Nan and George came to my rescue plucking me from a strange house on the outskirts of the capital. They drove me away and immediately took me for coffee and a bun. There’s a lot to be said for the power of coffee and a bun to ground you once more in the real world, to feel safer. They took me to Victoria Station and put me on a coach home, paying for my fare. I’ll always be eternally grateful that they were there for me that day, without them I’d have been in a real mess, with no means of getting home.
Rest in Peace Uncle George. . .
I closed yesterday by mentioning the drab clothes I’ve worn the past week. It got me to thinking about another time when a piece of drab clothing suddenly took on momentous importance to me. I think you’ll be surprised. Let me take you back to my early teens – not yet going to the pub but beginning to sneak out at night and also to frequently ‘leave home’.
This particular time was mid afternoon I’d had a row, I can’t remember what about, it might have been something to do with the gardening I recall having the strimmer chucked at me once… for committing some heinous crime in the eyes of my father. Maybe it was then. I was off, anger and tears in my eyes unable to control my emotions. I sped down the road without really knowing where I was going… I was just running away again. Didn’t you just hate those years when you couldn’t do angry properly and although you were so mad you found yourself crying instead? I longed to be able to do angry properly without giving myself away, and leaking tears all over my cheeks.
I’ve run away a good few times, a dozen or more, sometimes for a few hours to cool off, get my head in check, sometimes a few days to teach them a lesson. Trouble was they never seemed all that concerned when I disappeared. The old, ‘We weren’t worried, we knew you’d be back when you were hungry,’ line trotted out upon my return, or ‘Look what the cat dragged in in the night,’ after I suddenly reappeared sheepishly. Towards the end before the final time, they’d start locking all the doors and windows so I couldn’t get back in… I’d devise clever systems with hangers and spare keys and the like. I spent many hours trying to lift window handles with twisted wires in the dead of night.
Of course it was wrong, and I can quite see why once I started disappearing for longer and longer, they didn’t want me just coming back any time I felt like it. ‘You either live here by our rules or, you find somewhere else to live… we won’t keep going through this over and over again,’ my father. ‘You are driving this family apart, you have to decide if you want to be part of this family or not… it hurts us very much, but if you can’t live with us then you can go,’ that’s my mother’s ultimatum. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but no, oh no it could not be further from simple if it tried.
On this particular weekend, we’ll call it strimmer weekend for sake of argument, I ran, walked and ran some more when I thought I saw a car that looked like my dads (it hadn’t been). I found myself around four or five in the evening stumbling around a waste ground. Parts of the ground underfoot were strange colours pale blues and pinks, there were bits of corrugated iron, old pipes, dirty plastic sheets, large blue tubs lying on their side, congealed substances pouring out of many. I surmised this was all left over from the old chemical works… It was almost certainly chemicals in the barrels, and the lumping great pieces of concrete dotted around on the site, were bits of the fallen structure, which had been reduced to rubble, but not yet cleared away. I remember making a shelter form some industrial tubing, bits of plastic sheeting, fertiliser bags on the floor. I lay there for what seemed like an age… I had once again run away with nothing: no food, no coat, no plan and no clue. I found a jumper just laying on the ground, a dark green/blue woollen thing, fraying at the cuffs and neck with encrusted paint stains which rubbed like hard pellets against my skin. I vehemently remember thinking, this is who I am now, this how I live.
Of course it wasn’t. I lasted no more than six hours that time. I was trying to sneak back in by midnight. I may have even been caught and told to get to bed. ‘We’ll discuss this in the morning…’ Father again most likely.
I kept that jumper. I kept it for a few months: a mildewed, paint-stained, torn and tattered garment that connected me, and was itself connected, to that other life. I remember mum asking, ‘What is this disgusting thing living in your room?’ when she found it hidden at the bottom of the wardrobe. ‘Get rid of it this instant.’ I considered trying to explain that it was important to me, but realised quickly with such an explanation would come the admittance of all those mixed up feelings about not wanting to be here. I soon found that after she had discovered the filthy jumper, it lost all its totemic power, and I chucked it in the wheelie bin with the rest of the rubbish.
It had only been but a few hours but it felt like a lifetime. Up there on that waste ground a few miles from home, out of sight of the town I was isolated, it felt dangerous which triggered feelings of elation, somehow. I was completely alone, at that moment no one in the world knew where I was and there-in lay a kind of power: a strange sense of control.
I chose the name Son of Covid because it echoes the self-styled ‘Son of Sam’ the notorious killer David Berkowitz who terrorised New York City in the late seventies. That in turn reminded me of the Spike Lee movie Summer of Sam starring John Leguizamo whom I have always had a bit of a thing for. Incidentally I saw one of those profile documentaries of Spike Lee a few days ago on Sky Arts. It was a potted history of Spike’s most memorable or genre-defying films and it puzzled me that the commentators were all white film experts, made up of middle-aged men and one woman. Clips of the films were followed by some point of analysis or appreciation as is the form in these things. At one point they showed a famous clip from the film Do the Right Thing where Buggin’ Out – played by Giancarlo Esposito – asks of Danny Aiello’s cafe owner character ‘Why are there no brothers on the wall Sal?’ I’ll just leave that there and let it sink in.
Back to John Leguizamo, in ’95 he was cast as Chi-Chi Rodriguez in Too Wong Foo and thanks for everything Julie Newmar. A touchstone film for me growing up, about three drag queens on a road trip across the states, the trio breakdown near a backwater town with closed minds and traditional values. Decades later the one scene that sticks out to me is where Vida Boheme played by Patrick Swayze, discovers that their host, who has kindly taken the three of them in to her home, is experiencing domestic abuse. He stands up for her forcefully kicking the abusive husband out. Being rescued by Swayze, even if he was in a frock, clearly held some appeal for me. The film was rounded upon by some critics as being timid and predictable and had been overshadowed by the cult drag film The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which was another touchstone movie for me. I was a teen in the mid nineties, exploring my identity and sexuality, experimenting and being picked up by men in clubs. It was a time when Section 28 had just about eradicated all mention of anything but binary relationships and identities – including whoever I was. Those moments where you glimpse something else. Something other. Something freeing and fabulous, you hold on to dearly.
Today if you want to see and read about drag and alternate lives lived and loves, there are thousands of images and words, television shows on the subject and a million signposts, to show you where to find them. Christ there are some drag queens, that actually go into schools and say hey kids, it’s okay it’s just a character, it’s just clothes, make believe and a bit of magic, now sit down let me read you a story. Even wholesome family musicals around drag and the universal struggle to find your identity.
And the world has to be a better place for it…
I sit reading this back, having not worn anything more exciting than black joggers all week, a jumper to be hastily pulled on over whatever pyjamas I’m wearing, when the gasman or electrician arrives. I’m missing being fabulous I’m missing that sparkle in my life, the escapism and freedom of transformation becoming a different character on stage. I miss the camaraderie of the cast and all the people who pull together to make a show happen. And most of all I think I am missing the audiences.
I haven’t felt much like writing this week. It would have just been me moaning about the lack of hot water and being unable to bathe comfortably. That seemed rather self-regarding considering the trials and tribulations being faced by so many just outside my front door. Mention of the door tells you that I am shielding again, the infection rates are far higher than last time, or appear to be and the news of the new variant, which I have dubbed Son of Covid, means that it really wouldn’t be prudent to do anything but. I can share with you that I do have a working shower now, and have washed myself and my hair quite thoroughly so as to provoke a better humour.
I am startled by the way I have so easily slipped back into the shielding routine. I wake each morning, that is vital, allowing yourself to sleep-in, so quickly upsets the circadian rhythms. With my propensity for insomnia and broken sleep, I am acutely aware of making that simple effort to rise and see as much daylight as afforded by the winter season. I take my breakfast cereal – I have wheat biscuits at present – a yoghurt for my digestion and a strong coffee. I make a point to take my first meal sat at the kitchen table. I may put the radio on, listen to cheery pop music, or the world service to stay abreast of global new stories. I have gone off the local radio station, I find myself increasingly at odds with the views and comments of both the listeners and the presenters. Their binary outlook on all manner of issues are discomfiting, and likely to infect my thinking and darken my mood: moods can sit so stubbornly.
There has been some good news of late. I am pleased to be able to say that my sister has had her first vaccination and also my octogenarian aunt was due hers this week. My mother was very cross with her because she didn’t enquire as to which one of the vaccines she was going to get. I spoke with her, my aunt, at the beginning of the week to thank her for the card and a small cheque, that I will put in the bank and draw on when I can leave the house again. I’d like to use it to treat myself. Despite the concerns of using public transport coupled with the government restrictions, I find myself daydreaming about a train ride to the coast. Last year I was so very fortunate to be invited by friends to the beach on two occasions during the better weather, I do so hope we can do the same again this year.
I drank rather too much at Christmas. Forgetting the consequences, having rarely touched a drop the preceding year, I found myself suffering rather, for a number of days after. So much so that I somehow managed to convince myself I had been struck down by the disease. I took the necessary steps to find out, contacting the NHS, describing my symptoms, and booking a test. The symptoms were all centred around taste, or my lack of it. I suspect all the alcohol had eradicated my taste buds, in that way it often does the morning or indeed day after. Not to prevaricate – unlike me as you well know by now readers – I did the home test and the result came back firmly negative. So it was I began the year with a hangover, that lingered a few days which I immediately thought was covid.
How very 2020 of me.