Going Down

In which The Author senses a change in the air

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll already know all about my frequent visitations from the Black Dog. In fact, I used to have two Black Dogs in my life – one was Stella, the lunatic Labrador who used to go for long walks with me every day. She was fun. We’d vanish for hours and have adventures together. She was the Black Dog I could live with. Since Kath moved, I haven’t been able to take the crazy hound out. I’ve been for a decent number of long walks by myself, but it hasn’t been the same.
The other Black Dog comes round with predictable regularity every September, and stays well into the spring, or sometimes even later. About twenty years ago, over a pint, my friend Maria B., the Short Nurse, had a stab at identifying that particular beast: Seasonally Adjusted Disorder. Close, but no cigar. Once we’d both stopped laughing, I realized that she was probably on to something, and made an appointment with my GP.
You can read all about my history of depression in this blog anyway, starting from about July last year, so I won’t go over old ground here. The little calendar at the bottom of the page (or the side of the page, depending on your screen size) will enable you to explore the archives to your heart’s content.
Anyway, the Black Dog is back.
I knew it would be, as soon as I heard the weather forecast a couple of days ago. I haven’t done too badly for the past couple of months, I must be honest. In spite of being a Lotek Magnet and a Bore Magnet (and even a Lotek Bore Magnet, as I recounted in 400 Blows), I’ve managed to keep my mind occupied and the Black Dog at bay.
I still haven’t managed to chuckle at most of the ‘new comedy’ on Radio 4, but I suspect that it’s their problem, rather than mine. To judge from the hysterical braying of the studio audiences at shows like Jigsaw, there must be some very nice drugs wafting through the aircon. Even Dan Antopolski, who was a surprisingly offbeat support act to Simon Day at the Coliseum back in the day, seems to have lost his spark in the intervening years.
On the other hand, it could be me who’s lost his spark.
At the moment, I’m in Cardiff, having my third pint in the Golden Cross. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of pubs, but I was in that neck of the woods and I wasn’t in the mood to walk across town.
The Vulcan would have been nearer, but I don’t even know if it’s still there. I know it closed a couple of years ago, in spite of an exciting campaign to keep it open, celebrity plugs from the likes of John Inverdale, and even a gratuitous mention in the final instalment of my Doctor Who/Torchwood crossover story Pit Stop. A small locals’ pub on its own versus minted city centre developers? It was no contest really, was it? I’ve heard that it’s being relocated to the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan’s. It’ll be a nice tourist attraction, and even more so if it still gets deliveries from the brewery. At the moment, however, the chances of getting served there are pretty slim.
Next up would have been the Kings Cross, but that became a restaurant a couple of years ago. I’ve never been massively keen on the Wellington. At the other end of Chip Alley, Kitty Flynn’s is still there, of course. The last time I almost went in there, it was about 5.30 on a Saturday evening. They were chucking out a horrible-looking alcoholic. On that basis alone, I decided to give it a miss.
So, the Golden Cross it is. I haven’t been here since Cardiff Mardi Gras in 2008 (which was the last summer I worked in the book trade.) I only came here then because Rhian and Lucy were here. I’ve got a feeling that Gema was here as well; maybe that was the year before. Cardiff Mardis Gras all tended to blur into one after a while. There was only one other guy in the lounge, and he was pissed off his chops by 4.30. He tried to get another pint and could barely string a sentence together. It was probably time he got a breath of fresh air, in my opinion. That’s an hour earlier than the Kitty Flynn’s undesirable of times past. I’m fairly sure it isn’t the same guy. I can’t really remember. One thing’s for sure – he certainly won’t!
I’m only in Cardiff at all because of the unexpected phone call I received on Wednesday afternoon, as I told you in The Game’s Afoot. I’ve already got a trip to London to pay for out of this fortnight’s money. I could have done without an additional trip to Cardiff – especially as I won’t be reimbursed for my travelling expenses on either occasion. I’ve got a feeling that it was a wasted journey, too.
The audition for Fifteen to One was much more laid-back and straightforward (see, there’s that word again!) back in 1991. The hardest part of the whole process was finding the bloody sports centre in a Bristol suburb where they were being held. Once I’d arrived at the place I took my place between two rows of chairs, along with the fourteen other auditionees (is that even a word? LibreOffice doesn’t seem to like it…) We were all shocked when William G. Stewart himself strolled into the room and apologized for being late. We played a dummy run of the first two rounds, I managed to hold onto my lifelines, and a couple of months later I was in a TV studio in Putney. The job was a good ‘un.
Television has moved on in a quarter of a century or so. These days, everyone really can be famous for fifteen minutes. All you have to do is convince yourself that you’re the karaoke king/queen, or that you can cook a five-course meal for complete strangers using only the contents of your salad drawer, or that you really have had a gutsful of city life and fancy retiring to a half-million pound house in Dorset, and you’re halfway there. Just follow the weblinks at the end of every show, fill in the online application form, and you too can appear on daytime TV.
You see, these days it’s not enough to be good at quizzes. Just knowing your stuff is only half the battle. You also have to look confident, be lively and bubbly and enthusiastic, and convince the production team (who send their juniors to meet the public, and who only get to see a short video clip) that you’d make good television. I couldn’t do that. I’m fairly sure that the production team will take a look at my answers to the telephone quiz, and my answers to the general knowledge quiz which we had to complete on the day, and my performance in the dummy run, and think, ‘This guy might be worth having on the show.’ Then they’ll look at my audition tape and think, ‘He’s really not for us.’
I wouldn’t blame them for a moment.
I was already stressed after nearly failing to find the fucking venue. I should have looked it up online before setting off, but I didn’t have time this morning. After fucking around with the TfL website, I wasn’t in the mood to play with Google Earth as well. I’d already looked up Schooner Way on my pathetically old Cardiff A-Z, so I had a vague idea that it was in the Bay somewhere. (I can’t tell you how old my A-Z is, because I don’t know. There’s no date on the title page, but it was the first edition. The barrage hadn’t even been built when it was published. Go figure!) I caught the train to Cardiff Bay, and then spent twenty minutes or so walking back towards the city centre before I found the venue, only a stone’s throw from the Atrium and the empty space where the Vulcan used to be.
I knew I wasn’t on form even before I left the house this morning. I’ve had a shit couple of nights’ non-sleep, because my back has started giving me gyp again. I was already shattered before I got on the train at Aberdare. After traipsing around half of Cardiff to find the bloody Novotel, I was sorely tempted to ring the contact number I’d been given to make my excuses and leave.
Suffice it to say it’s very unlikely that I’ll grace your TV screens any time soon. Perhaps it’s not a bad thing. I had my fifteen minutes way back in 1991. That was long before every fuckwit who’s ever sung in the shower or made beans on toast realised that they could be on the idiot’s lantern. It would have been fun to meet Sandi Toksvig, though. My old pal Jason B. also extended the offer to stay with him just outside Edinburgh, in case I do get the call to go to Scotland.
I can’t see it happening, though.
Part of the T&Cs which I had to agree to was a clause which stated that I mustn’t discuss any aspect of the audition via social media. Well, I haven’t told you what the questions were, or anything that might give you an edge, have I? I’ve just told you what you can expect if you decide to have a punt. That might mean that I’m disqualifying myself just by posting this. I don’t care, to be perfectly honest. Things have changed. I’ve changed. TV has changed. Next year, I’ll be eligible to enter Brain of Britain again. As I’ve said before, I’ve got a great face for radio.
On the subject of TV: that brings us back to the Golden Cross. The pissed guy left, having been refused another drink. It’s started to get busier now that people have finished work. It’s a gay pub. It’s unashamedly a gay pub, with rainbow flags outside and in, obscure disco records on the sound system (oddly interspersed with Cliff Richard and Robbie Williams hits), and a handful of ostentatiously queer boys sitting at the bar in the other half. There’s a television set high on the opposite wall, showing a looped slideshow of forthcoming attractions: karaoke with ‘the fantastic Scarlet Diamonte’ [sic]; ‘Vicki Vivacious'; the wonderfully witty ‘Tanya Hyde'; ‘the outstanding Wendy Kane'; ‘the fantstic [sic] Danni Dee'; and so forth. Tomorrow night, apparently, we can look forward to ‘Camp Classics’ with Drag DJ Doris. As you’ve probably guessed from their names, the headline acts are drag queens, apart from (possibly) Wendy Kane, who to judge from her (his?) photograph really is outstanding – in more ways than one. If they’re real, she’s a big lass!
So, the Golden Cross it is. Probably a good excuse to fill in some of the backstory now. My trip to London a week on Monday is something which I’m looking forward to and dreading in equal amounts: my first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic of Charing Cross Hospital. Interestingly, and rather confusingly, Charing Cross Hospital isn’t anywhere near Charing Cross Station. It’s in Fulham Palace Road, which is why my Oyster card will be taking me all the way out to Hammersmith and beyond.
I’ve blogged on this subject several times, but not here. I’ve discussed the subject of cross-dressing a few times (most notably in Skirting the Issue), but I go into far more detail in my other blog. It’s a semi-secret blog, which isn’t linked to this one. I’m sure you can find it if you look hard enough. Just shy of my fiftieth birthday, I’ve finally taken a step which I probably should have taken thirty years ago.
The problem is that I no longer know whether I’m straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, male, female, transgender, or just fucked up in the head. The whole issue of sexual/gender identity has had me confused since I first became aware of it, about 35 years ago. Three and a half decades of thinking about it hasn’t enabled me to come up with any definitive answers, either. I’ve only ever gone out with girls, and on the one occasion that a guy made a play for me I had to make my excuses and leave, rather rudely if my memory serves me well.
I know quite a few gay guys in Aberdare (and some in Cardiff, having worked with them over the years), and they know I’m not interested in them. I know a good few of the lesbians in town too, and they treat me as one of the girls. I know a couple of gay women who’ve been married and had children before changing sides. Similarly, I know gay guys who had girlfriends back in the day. I know at least one chap who left his wife for another man. I’m sure that there are many more permutations lurking beneath the surface of our little town, if only people could be bothered to think outside the box for a moment. Goddess only knows what goes in Cardiff after dark, never mind a proper city like Manchester or London.
That’s just sex, though.
I haven’t had as much as the sniff of a cunt since just before my 35th birthday. As I’ve said before, Gema and I were so pissed that neither of us can remember whether I fucked her or not. I don’t care. I don’t miss it. Sometimes I think it would be nice, but then I see the emotional messes that my friends get into when sex rears its ugly head, and I remember that it’s too much like hard fucking work. What people choose to get up to in bed has never made any difference to me. My confused sexual identity has never made any difference to them either.
I’m a 51st Century Boy at heart. When I re-registered with Aberdare Online briefly, about five years ago, I decided that my old Cosmic Tigger username had outlived its usefulness. ‘The Doctor’ was too obvious. I decided that my new username would be ‘Captain Jack.’ As in Captain Jack Harkness, the polysexual hero of Doctor Who and Torchwood, whose motto seems to be, ‘If it breathes, fuck it. If it’s not breathing but still warm, it’s probably worth a go anyway.’
Who was I trying to kid? Come to that, who were John Barrowman and Russell T. Davies trying to kid? An openly gay writer casting an outrageously handsome gay man as the best-looking flirtatious hero on kids’ and adults’ TV was surely the finest broadcasting in-joke of the Millennium so far. But that was the beauty of Aberdare Online, you see – only the Inner Circle knew each other off-line, and so you could pretend to be anyone you wanted to be. It was what the Internet was all about, wasn’t it?
I was in Aberdare Library this morning when a very attractive Japanese chick walked in. She had long hair, glasses, a chunky sweater, a shortish skirt, long leather boots – she was ticking most of my boxes to begin with. I went straight into Captain Jack Mode and nodded ‘hello’ to her as she passed me. She smiled back, and I wondered for a moment whether she was one of the three Japanese girls I’d bumped into on the Gadlys about a year ago. It’s been a long time, after all, and I’m fairly sure we white guys all look the same to them.
She was doing something on her laptop, and I was playing silly fuckers with the TfL website, so we didn’t have chance to strike up a conversation. Then I had to run off and catch my train to Cardiff. Maybe I’ll see her again. Maybe I won’t. If I do, I might invite her to join me for a coffee. Go on, what do you reckon the odds are of that happening?
Anyway, the Golden Cross is starting to fill up a bit now. It’s happy hour now, so I might neck this pint back and get another down me. It’s a long time since I’ve been in Cardiff in the evening (apart from my trip to the theatre last year.) I might take some money out of the bank and come back here for another couple of pints. I don’t know yet.
It’s a gay pub. It’s where the drag queens come and strut their stuff at weekends. I don’t want to be a drag queen. I’ve never wanted to go for the outrageous Danny La Rue look, like the ones who are advertised on the big screen in here. I’d be comfy to sit here in a chunky sweater, a shortish skirt, long leather boots, with nice long straight hair and a reasonable amount of makeup. Come to think of it, the Japanese girl from this morning was dressed pretty much the way I’d choose to dress, given half a chance. That was probably the reason why she caught my eye in the first place. I’d have liked her to have worn a hat and gloves as well, of course, but that’s just my fetishes fighting their way up through the beer haze. I’ll wear a hat and gloves, needless to say.
The problem is, of course, that I’d have to come to somewhere like the Golden Cross in order to feel comfortable in that style. Although I’ve worn a skirt to nearly every pub in Aberdare, I’ve never gone for the full female hair-and-makeup palaver. I wouldn’t know where to start. Luckily I’ve got a number of female friends who’ve said they’ll help me out when I do take the next step. That next step wouldn’t be in Aberdare, though. It would have to be somewhere like this.
Even so, I’d probably want to be left alone, at least for the first couple of visits. After that, I’d make some friends and feel a bit more at home in the place. I don’t know what I’d do if someone (male or female) propositioned me, of course – but after nearly fifteen years of celibacy, that’s hardly surprising, is it? I’ve been out of the game for so long that I’m fairly sure I’ve forgotten how to play it now. I’m pretty sure the rules have changed anyway. As I said earlier, so many of my friends seem to be playing different games now that I’m not even sure the basic concept is the same as it was thirty-odd years ago.
I can’t afford to have a good session in Cardiff tonight, because I’ve got that trip to London on the horizon. It’s very tempting to have another couple of pints here and see who else comes in. I doubt if I’d know anyone, but I could be surprised. The real trick would be to avoid heading to Metro’s, instead of the station, at 10.30. I’ve been down those stairs into Goth/metal/rock darkness too many times before, and I certainly don’t fancy another alien abduction (see The Truth Is Out There.
This time, though, I’ve made sure that Cosmeston Lakes is marked on my A-Z. Belt and braces.

Straightforward… (Part 94)

In which The Author encounters the TfL website again

Earlier this week I told you about my adventures with the Transport for London website. You’ll be surprised to learn, I’m sure, that things haven’t improved in the intervening period.
As I’m going to London a week on Monday, I decided to put another £5.00 on my Oyster card. I knew I already had an opening balance – it took me nearly half an hour to verify it, but it’s there – and I thought I’d put an extra fiver on to cover myself for the exciting journey to Hammersmith and back to the centre again. I opened up the TfL website and tried to log in.
It turned out that the weekend’s confusion had arisen because my Username wasn’t actually my email address, as I’d assumed. Having established that my Username was something different, and after setting a new password to be on the safe side, I thought all would be well. I typed in my Username and got the following error message: Please note: Your username is now your email address.
Just when I’d begun to think that someone was taking the piss, I managed to log in and accessed my Oyster card account. I selected Pay As You Go top-up and decided that a fiver would be plenty. Then I had to decide on a particular station at which I was going to ‘activate’ the credit.
That was a tricky one. On nearly all my previous trips to London, I’ve jumped off the coach at Earl’s Court and gone straight to the tube from there. That’s pretty much what Rhian and I have planned for next week. However, I’m not 100% sure whether the coach still sets down there. I decided to select Earl’s Court and thrash it out with the guy in the ticket office in Victoria if we had to switch to Plan B.
Within a matter of seconds, my confirmation email arrived, advising me of my new balance.
It also advised me that if the credit hadn’t been ‘activated’ by 27 September, it would be cancelled and automatically refunded to my bank account. I’m in London on 29 September. Go figure!
The upshot of this is that I’m already a fiver down, which I can ill-afford to be at this stage of the game. There’s no way that the refund will hit my bank account over a weekend, so I’ll have to spend another fiver when we eventually get to London. A few days after that, my original payment will return to my bank account, just when I don’t really need it.
Am I just stupid in thinking that once a Pay As You Go top-up has been added to the Oyster card, it should stay on the card until it’s needed? After all, if I top up my mobile phone, the credit stays there until I’ve used it all up. I don’t have to ‘activate’ it at a mobile phone shop within seven days. If I put credit in my electricity meter, I don’t expect a man from the utility company to come and ‘activate’ it for me. I certainly don’t expect it to be cancelled and refunded if I don’t use it all within seven bloody days.
Considering that the whole philosophy behind the Oyster card is allegedly to make life easier for people travelling around London, so far I’d have to give TfL a very grudging 3/10 for effort. I haven’t even used the fucking card yet, and I’ve already wasted far more time and effort than the £2.50 saving on a tube ticket would seem to justify.
Watch this space for a further account of my adventures when I eventually do hit the Big Smoke.

Being a Non-Linear Account of the Life and Opinions of The Author, Cross-referenced and Illustrated, with Occasional Hesitations, Repetitions and Deviations.

Ann McGauran

Freelance journalist and social policy commentator

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