Monday, 9 October 2017

A chronic case of androphilia

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a free lance journalist working for BBC Three. He explained he was working on an article about the resurgence of the use of the term "androphile" among right-wing men as a way to distance themselves from the supposed lefty connotations of the word "gay".  Something that was news to me.

The journalist wanted to conduct a phone interview with me because somehow he'd found out that when I first created this blog (in 2004), I used the word "androphile" to describe myself. 

I should have known better, having been interviewed, before but I agreed to talk to him. When you read the result of an interview you find that the gist of what you said is indeed there but because of the need for pithyness and, possibly, a chinese-whispers effect, your words are also stripped of at least some of their nuance and somehow not fully representative of what you meant. Hence this post, I suppose. 

You can read the results of the interview here. This has since then been picked up, retold, and further skewed, with disapproving undertones, by QueertyAttitude, and possibly others. I've had few direct reactions so far and they have been benign, if somehow odd. Some indirect reactions on social media have been... a little less benign, shall we say, so this might change. 

As far as I recall the right-hand side column of this page is the only place I have ever used the term and it hasn't featured there for some time. I have no idea how the journalist managed to track me down, as google doesn't appear to index me in association with the term.  

This was a half-serious, admitedly slightly pompous way of trying to be both neutral and punctiliously precise in that description of myself to a new visitor of this blog. I somehow cobbled the word from my fragmentary knowledge of Greek and probable memories of encountering it somewhere before (I certainly don't claim to have had an original idea). 

I felt "homosexual" often had a clinical connotation, while one possible definition of the word "gay" covers a range of interests that I didn't share: i.e. the stereotyplical, more frivolous side of gay culture of which I wasn't part of. Again it wasn't a rejection of this side of the culture, just a prosaic attempt at acknowledging that this wasn't part of my experience. I am simply, as I often joke, a bad gay. 

As mentioned above, I have never really used the term other than in that profile and for simplicity's sake, I routinely and happily describe myself as "gay", since it's a short-hand that everybody will recognise and understand. And following the discovery that the word is now favoured by all sorts of (to my eyes) unsavoury characters, "gay" will certainly remain my descriptor of choice for the foreseeable future. 

UPDATE: I think the journalist found me via my dormant MySpace (remember that?) accountw, the end of my short biog went: "I am androphile, AKA a big 'mo." I have now removed that bit. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

God's Own Country - a review


God's Own Country (GOC) has been garnering plaudits from critics and audiences alike. The gays on my TL who's seen it are raving about it. Yet on the face of it the film hardly seem material for success. It is a totally conventional romcom story (indeed it has been compared to another (Brokeback Mountain)): an interloper comes to rescue the main character from the doldrums. They don't like each other at the beginning but love triumphs in the end. 

The worth here is in the storytelling. The justness of the tone, full of delicate details but always successfully avoiding sentimentality, the sensitive portrayals of the characters, the raw, unflinching scenes, make GOC an out of the ordinary exploration of love and male identity. 

That the film is a gay love story is, I would argue, ultimately quite secondary, a narrative device almost, although to most viewers this will probably feel quite central. The facts that it is set in the dourness of the Yorkshire countryside, not in an urban environment, that it features (mostly) working class people and that one of those people is a Romanian immigrant seem much more significant in the end. 

It is worth noting that despite some rather vigorous sexual encounters of a homosexual nature and the passing display of male genitalia, the censors, in their wisdom, thought that all that was required was a 15 certificate. This is a sign of progress no doubt. Another sign of this, possibly, is that, had this story been told five to ten years ago, we would probably not have been granted the happy ending we now get and our heroes would not have been allowed to go roam the greenwood (as Forster called it in Maurice).

Beyond the sweet love story, however GOC can, I think, be viewed as a portrayal of, and a metaphor for modern Britain. And it is fair to say that the DVD of GOC won't be on Farage's Christmas list. 

We are presented with an insular little group of people, stuck in a hopeless rut and deeply unhappy for it. They are facing emotional and financial ruin and they are, in the end, only saved by the arrival of a skilled worker from Romania and the upheaval it causes (that nationality can't have been chosen by chance after the scare stories published in the right-wing press not so long ago). 

In the context of the unfolding debacle that is the UK's decision to leave the EU and to cut itself from the rest of Europe, the plot of the film takes a highly symbolic meaning which turns into a deeply socially and politically engaged film, and this is what transcends its possible status as a modest romcom to being a true work of art.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Obikes London - a review

You'll have noticed them on a pavement or at a street corner in the past few days. There's a new set of players in town trying to lure you into taking them for a ride. They are wild and free; they don't need docking stations; the obikes are in town and they want your attentions.

Since I needed to pay Canada Water a visit, which is unhelpfully located outside the catchment zone of the TfL/Santander Cycle Hire scheme, I decided to take the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity by using one of those obikes to take myself there from Elephant and Castle. 

A similar hire scheme, called Mokibes, recently opened in Manchester and there's apparently been what we shall modestly call a few teething problems. Even the London scheme, where people are invited to leave the bikes near an official bike parking location, seems to have created some confusion, as seen in the image below I shot earlier this week.

I should probably mention here that I am a great fan and have been a dedicated and almost daily user of the so-called Boris Bikes/Kenny Farthings since the inception of the scheme (seven years ago almost to the day). Since that time, those bikes have been my main means of transport and I love using them.

So, having downloaded the undispensable obike app earlier in the week to have a little snoop around, I was pretty much ready to go and see what the new kid on the block had to offer. The obvious advantage for me is the option (as per my planned trip) to go where the red bikes wouldn't take me.

Finding a bike (photo below) and unlocking it was pretty straight forward and all worked very well. The bikes are currently free to use (normal cost is 50p for 30min - much cheaper to casual users than the established scheme), with only a (reduced) deposit of £29 to pay in-app (full deposit will be £49). 

This is however sadly pretty much where the fun stopped for me.

The bikes are much lighter than Cycle Hire ones and as such feel a little flimsy to someone used to the more sturdy option. I had to readjust the handle bars which had somehow been turned out of line with front wheel; something I never have to do normally.

As I do everytime I take a TfL bike, I had to adjust the seat height (I'm tall, you see). Unfortunately those bikes are not built for tall people. The seat stem is impossibly short and I ended up with my legs bent at 90 degree, when the recommended position is to be able to extend them fully for maximum power.

Still, I set off on what I had discovered earlier should be roughly a 15min ride to the east.

Unlike the older scheme, those bikes only have one speed (although that shouldn't be a problem for me as I only ever use the 3rd gear on the TfL bikes). Couple with the clumsy cycling position and some headwind, I often felt that I could have gone faster walking. I'm normally more or less able to keep up with slow traffic with the other scheme, which, I am convinced, affords me extra safety. Not being able to remotely keep up, is, I think, dangerous.

What I took to be an apparently ineffective gear twist (located on the right handle bar) is apparently in fact a bell, which already didn't work on my bike.

Very soon my legs started to ache in unusual places and to lose most stamina. I even had to resort several time to cycling standing, BMX style, for a little relief. I did manage to pick up a little speed when doing that, but it is not a position that can be kept for long.

In the end, I didn't even quite reach my planned destination before I decided to ditch the bike (in front of Canada Water's leisure centre) and finish my trip on foot. This had taken me 22 min according to the app and I was sweating like I haven't sweated for a very long time on one of my usual steeds.

There are a number of people who think the Santander bikes too ponderous and slow. Compared to the obikes, they are like the best-tuned racing machines and my love for them has only grown after today.

I am lucky enough to rarely have to go outside the cycle hire zone, so I would only have limited need for the obikes in the first place, but I will certainly do my utmost not to have to use them again. If I do end up using them, perhaps late at night in north-east London where I sometimes find myself, it will only be as far as the nearest docking station, where I'll quickly swap for one of the red bikes.

The app works fine, the availability is great but the scheme is totally being let down by the central piece of it, the bikes themselves. A real missed oppotunity.

See also:
Dockless Bikeshare in London – oBike is Here (for a more positive take)