Archives for posts with tag: Westminster Abbey

In spite of myself it was simply too thrilling to miss.  So, late last night, I tuned into the BBC‘s excellent news website and watched the Royal Wedding.

We, the British, are just so extraordinarily good at pomp.  I looked at the small computer screen in the middle of the night and what I saw took my breath away.  Why was I surprised?  Because, when it comes to state theatre, we are so consistently awesome.  The costumes, the characters, the music, the fanfare, the subtle variations on ancient themes.   The great processions inside and out Westminster Abbey of meticulously timed choir boys, guards, clergy, government and the Royal Family.

It was interesting to watch the inexperienced Duchess of Cornwall, waiting in the nave, not slip effortlessly into line as her husband obviously expected.  She was unsure of where and how to stand as they waited with The Queen before they walked down the aisle.

Both William and Harry looked so sweet in their ill-fitting uniforms and cheerful grins but one couldn’t stop ones self from remembering them with their mother.  The affection she had for them.

This was such a different wedding from that of their parents.

Miss Middleton, when she arrived, with her severe make-up looked like the daughter of the evil queen from Snow White.  In spite of the make-up I really loved the Sarah Burton designed dress, it reminded me of Grace Kelly’s and Princess Margaret’s.  I am sure it looked exquisite off the television.  I thought the Cartier tiara (made in 1936 and purchased by King George VI for his wife Queen Elizabeth) could have been bigger but if you are not used to diamond tiaras one might opt for a humble stack rather than a glittering pile.

The vows brought a tear to my wrinkled eye.

What was Charles thinking as they read the vows?  Was he thinking about Diana?  Does he ever?  His own vows read so cynically thirty years before.  Knowing that he would never keep them.

Princes Charles and Andrew, Princess Anne had all made those vows before the British public and all had failed to keep them.  Indeed, the rancid hag Camilla had been explicit in keeping Charles from ever honouring his vows to Diana.  As this motley crew of vow breakers marched down the aisle only The Queen and Prince Phillip had kept up the very royal appearance of monogomy…even though they both have well-known romantic skeletons in their armoires.

The Queen’s affection for her now deceased horse trainer Lord Porchester is very well known..some say that her last two children are his children not Prince Phillip’s.

The American commentator on CNN was dumbfounded that the bells that pealed before and after the service were pulled by real live campanologists.

When I first heard that Diana, Princess of Wales was dead (Joe called me from NYC) my first tearful thought was for those two poor boys.

Seeing William’s face with Diana so evidently in his smile, his complexion and his demeanour.  The warmth and evident love he showed his bride at the altar.  I was moved to remember her.

Like so many people I wondered if she had lived, what Diana would have worn, who she would have arrived with.  Her new husband maybe?  Children?  I wondered what she would have made of William’s decision to marry Catherine and I concluded that she would have been very happy indeed.

Although she paid with her life, Diana’s loving influence over her sons bore fruit for all to see, not only for the monarchy but for our nation.

The ring did not fit but together they made it work.  A good metaphor.  This relationship may very well have ‘legs’ as they say here in Hollywood.

There was something deliciously bucolic about the interior decoration of the Abbey.  The trees, the green and white foliage.  They had somehow redressed this huge Abbey as a local church.  The scale of the event that was very, very human.

As much as I loved watching two young people get married I was also aware that many modern British folk, contemporaries of mine, loathe the idea that this wedding cost them so much and when pressed, err toward the idea of a republic.

The same people believe that come the death of The Queen ‘things will change’.  I very much doubt it.  This inherited power/money is hard to re-imagine for those who inherit it.

There was a moment when The Queen, The Duchess of Cornwall and Carole Middleton were standing together outside Westminster Abbey chatting.  Carole’s leg was buckled into a static curtsy, a look of bewilderment on her face.  The daughter of working class labourers and miners from  Northern England.  This woman is perhaps the most perfect example of how Britain is changing and how our attitude to class is subtly evolving to be perhaps more inclusive rather than overtly exclusive.

Carole’s buckled leg betrayed her class shame.  Knowing inherently that she had no right to be there, or rather…as her class rights had been originally written.

Only the Queen has the power to suck the confidence out of whom ever of her subjects she is speaking, leaving one a mere husk.  Quaking.  I was on Smith’s Polo Lawn in 1984, stamping divots after the first chukka, the first time I met her.  I was perplexed that she was wearing dark glasses, that her suspenders were visible through her skirt. To then be introduced (even if I had been Lord Rendlesham for a few years) nothing could have ever prepared me to meet my Monarch.

I was uncharacteristically speechless.

The Queen is neither ego centric nor ruthless, she doesn’t need to be either.  She is known to be grumpy, obsessed with punctuality and desirous of simple pleasures.

I listened intently to the service, the words that are used during the matrimonial agreement before God.  It was very heterosexual.   A man and a woman wedded so that they may have children etc.

I listened closely to those words and wondered how they might apply to me…me and another man.

Then, foolishly I looked at Twitter and there was the reprehensible Perez Hilton checking out the boys at the wedding and tweeting lewd, inappropriate comments about Katherine’s brother.  Even if he was gay Perez, would he consider being ‘snatched’ by a fat ugly monster like you?

Then I check Facebook and my gay friends are also making lewd comments…objectifying Harry and Katherine’s brother.  It made me sad.

How do we square our childish behaviour with our desire to be taken seriously enough to demand marriage?  A fairy tale marriage?

P.S. My dear friend Tara Palmer-Tomkinson  looked amazing.

Duncan 6 Years Old

The lively town of Whitstable is protected from the shallow Swale by two 17th Century Dutch built dykes on the North Kent Coast, England.  The town is primarily known for the large, flat native oysters growing wild and prolifically in the shallow estuary waters close to the caramel shingle beach.

The British film star Peter Cushing, famous for Hammer Horror films, lived there with his wife Helen.  Once, getting off a bus, my mother accidentally knocked him off his bicycle.  Years later I bought Peter Cushing’s beachside house.

When I was a little boy I sang in the choir at St Alphage, Anglican Church.  My mother told me she thought I would make a very good vicar.  Not because I was particularly pious but she knew how much I loved dressing up in my cassock and ruff.  Sometimes I would steal the cassock out of the church and wear it around the house… much to the consternation of my family.

I loved singing carols, hymns and psalms.  I particularly loved singing psalms.  The low growl the organ made when we sang those difficult psalms.  I loved evensong when the church was candle lit and half empty.   I loved singing at weddings because we got paid.

During the day the large organist worked in Tattersalls the butchers.  She wore floral dresses and flat black plastic slippers.  She looked funny in the mortarboard the ladies wore in the church.   She always smiled.  I think she may be still alive.  That’s what my hometown is like.  We knew each and every one.  The men who worked the harbour, the women who worked in the supermarket and the schools.

The antique shops on Harbour St. attracted unusual and eccentric men and women trawling for treasures driving expensive and exotic cars.  That’s where I met my first, fabulous gay men.

In the early morning I worked a paper round.  Waking at 5 in all weathers delivering papers.  I loved the smell of newsprint in the newsagent, the smell of burning paraffin.

Inquisitive little boy that I was I wanted to be involved in everything.  I explored the graveyards, the football pitches, the cricket ground.  I walked the golf course; I explored the beach huts and knew every inch of the beach from Seasalter to Swalecliff.  I joined any club/organization that would have me: the drama club, the Anglican choir, and the barley cup drinking Mormons, the silent Quakers, and the theatrical Catholics.  I knew every shop and every shopkeeper.  I wanted to know about furniture and the names of flowers and trees.  I would wait on the quay for the fishing boats to dock and watch the men sort the fish for Billingsgate market.  If a particular house looked interesting I would knock on the door and ask to be let inside.   I was rarely turned away.  The only building I couldn’t get into was the Masonic temple.

I was there when the oysters landed, mixed with hundreds of orange starfish.  I was there when the vicar blessed the catch.  When the yawls raced on the Swale with their great umber sails, when the sea flooded the town, when the bonfires burned on November 5th I was always there.

In fact, I would do anything I could NOT to be at home.  You know why.  All of you.

I am no stranger to organised religion and village life.  For the longest time I really thought that I might want to sign up and wear the cassock and the mitre and preach the gospels until… until I realised that whilst my church tolerated a boy gay they didn’t want anything to do with a man gay.  In fact, apart from the drama club and the Quakers, none of the clubs/churches were very happy to include me or men like me.  You see, I made no secret of my gayness.  Never. EVER.

Recently I got to thinking about why that would be so.  Why didn’t they want shameless gays in their churches?  I thought about a thousand years of Christianity.  I can’t imagine some gays weren’t then exactly like we are now: a bunch of cynical iconoclasts.  I mean, a couple of queens squealing in the back of a medieval church kind of destroys the control the clergy expect to exert over it’s congregation.   Do you know what I mean?

Certainly, where I come from, the gays can’t keep their mouths shut… they have opinions about everything.  It wasn’t always so bad for gays in the community, we weren’t always burned at the stake.  Not until Queen Victoria and the new Puritanism.  Just look at our rich tranny history.  Check out Fanny and Stella a couple of fabulous 17th century drag queen who trolled up Burlington Arcade in their bustles and feathered hats.  They were always in court but always got away with it.  Can you imagine those girls in Westminster Abbey being FIERCE with the ushers?

This is my problem with gay marriage and organized religion.  We are better than that!  We know it’s a corrupt institution.   Don’t we?  When did we start straying away from our own rich culture?  The language and locations of our gay lives?  When did we stop being so brave?  Brave enough to defend what we have rather than assume that what they have is better?

Why are we fighting for marriage in a church?  You know, I’d be happy just to be protected.   That I can walk on the street where I live holding my lovers hand.  Call me old fashioned but all this gay marriage stuff is just nonsense.

As much as I believe in God, I want to do it my way and the Bishops and the Deacons knew that.  The funny thing is, most of them were gay but they weren’t like ‘us’.  They knew we weren’t the kind of folk (us vulgar gay boys) who were going to buckle down and not raise the occasional plucked eye brow at the badly written sermon, make inappropriate, ribald remarks about the cute new pastor.

We just couldn’t be controlled because that’s the way we are.  Our culture, up until now, has been about innuendo and barbed truths.  You see, darling, my relationship with God was forged through adversity.  I needed God in my life because he gave me solace, fortitude and hope.  My relationship with God means that I am never alone.

When I was drinking I would listen to torch songs and pray that he would come, that’s the kind of God I have-one who listens to Judy and Barbra.

I’m just trying to understand who I am in relation to the church.  There’s an imagined homo history that we have to explore-read between the lines.  I don’t think the church (a thousand years ago) gave two hoots about what men did in bed but was terribly threatened by our candour, fearlessness and what made us the ‘other’.  I’m not talking about those men who are silenced by fear I’m talking about those of us who live out and proud..  The two tribes of gay: the trannies and the down low.

Duncan Ivan and Christopher 1982

“At Marlborough Street Court, when the assistant gaoler Scott called out “Ernest Cole,” a person looking like a well-dressed woman stepped into the dock and gravely faced Mr. Denman, the presiding magistrate. No one would have imagined that the prisoner, who was attired in a black fur-trimmed winter mantle, large black feathered hat and veil, and carried a muff and neat hang-bag was a man. It was alleged that the prisoner was a suspected person loitering in Oxford-street presumably for the purpose of committing a felony. Detective Gittens, D Division, deposed that, while in company with Detective Dyer, he saw the prisoner in Oxford-street on Monday evening. The prisoner was behaving like a disorderly female. He went up to the prisoner, and told him that he believed him to be a man. The prisoner endeavoured to escape by jumping on to an omnibus.”

The Times, January 2, 1901