marksimpson.com

The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Menu Close

“Never Before Have I Seen Such A Blatant Display Of Poofery!!”

This month, the Welsh actor Windsor Davies, 88, most famous for playing the very shouty Battery Sgt Major Williams in the now unthinkably un-PC – and apparently unrepeatable – 1970s BBC comedy series Ain’t Half Hot Mum, was summoned to the CO’s office in the sky.

AHHM was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the duo behind the other smash hit 1970s hit BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. Croft was also behind Are You Being Served?, thus he and Perry dominated my childhood viewing, making them essentially the architect of my terrible sense of humour.

Set in India in the dying days of both the Second World War and the British Empire, AHHM told the travails of a concert party of misfit men – or ‘boys’ as they refer to themselves in their theme song – that just want to survive the war and have a bit of a giggle amidst the relentless boredom and heat, and put on a show to entertain the men. (Perry was drawing on his own experience: during the war he had served in a Royal Artillery Concert Party in Burma.)

Their old school, barrel-chested, ramrod-backed, racist, homophobic ‘SHUUUUT-TUUUUP!!’ BSM would have scoffed at the new, Mister lah-dee-dah Gunner Graham American Psychological Association guidelines for men and boys. Clearly a fervent believer in the now officially pathologized ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ – though he would just call it ‘backbone’ – he is forever trying, and failing, to turn the ‘effeminate poofs’ in the concert party into ‘proper men’, and save the British Empire from decadence.

A tribute to Battery Sgt Major Williams

Everyone else though – the squaddies they entertain, the local Indians working for the British Army, and especially the pipe-smoking Colonel – love the ‘boys’ of the concert party and their degenerate, painted poofery and can’t wait for post-war, post-imperial dissipation.

There was also a regular hint that this mustachioed scourge of poofdom who sees poofery everywhere has latent ‘omosexual tendencies himself – or is at least ‘guilty’ of behaving like an ‘omo. Williams dotes on Gunner ‘Parky’ Parkin, one of the hunkier (by dismal 1970s standards) young soldiers in the concert party: “Shoulders back, lovely boy, you’ve got a fine pair of shoulders on you. Show ’em orf! Show ’em orf!” He sings his (non-existent) praises to the officers and covers up his failures.

He thinks the lad is his illegitimate son; so he is showing paternal pride and affection for his own virility. But we and the concert party know he isn’t Parky’s daddy, so the joke is he’s unwittingly displaying something else. Freud should have had a writing credit for this sitcom: he saw a father’s love for his son, and the ‘male bonding’ of all-male groups, as a sublimated, socially-acceptable outlet for universal homoerotics.

The BSM also sometimes appears to be wearing eyeliner, though I’m sure this is just a 1970s TV camera pickup issue.

The reason BSM Williams was such a fondly-regarded prime-time act in the 1970s was down to Davies’ great comedic performance (and it was a performance of course – apparently he was a very kind and gentle chap). It wasn’t just about the virtuoso shouting – it was also about those baby blue eyes in silent close-up: so expressive when reacting to/mocking other people’s lines

And because even forty years ago, the bristling Sgt Major represented for most UK viewers under 50 an already outmoded, comically inappropriate imperial masculinity. If one that was still vividly recognisable, especially to a male generation that had, like Davies, done National Service (it ended in 1960)

For anyone under 50 today, probably the most recognisable part is the waxed Edwardian moustache – but only because it’s been recycled on the ironic upper lip of hipsters and Movemberists.

Possibly only one of the concert party ‘poofs’ seems intended to be taken for an actual poof: ‘Gloria’, played by Melvyn Hayes – who was the cross-dressing star of both the concert party and, alongside Davies, the sitcom itself. Yes, judged by today’s standards it was racist and homophobic: I’m sure plenty of 1970s viewers enjoyed seeing the bloody campers getting a beasting from the Sgt Major – I know I did.

But he was the cartoon baddie, and the past. Annoying and ridiculous as they are often presented, the ‘poofs’ were the sympathetic characters, and the present.

And also the future – a future in which ordinary soldiers have become their own concert party ‘poofs’, mincing around on YouTube. 

While many civilians pay good money to be shouted at like that.

It Aint Half Hot Mum – End Credits
Funny Dance – Royal Marines – Call on Me
Be sure to watch all the way to the (happy) ending…

Toxic Hegemonic Masculinity Ideology

‘Toxic masculinity’ may not be terribly appetising, but it does seem to be on everyone’s lips these days.

The concept originally derives from the gender studies theory of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ – described on Wikipedia as the ‘stereotypic notion of masculinity that shapes the socialization and aspirations of young males’.

Although hegemonic masculinity is, as the name suggests, a bad thing in itself, toxic masculinity is, as the name tells you, really bad. It’s the aspects of hegemonic masculinity that ‘serve to maintain men’s dominance over women in Western societies’. Things like ‘the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence’.

Somewhat confusingly however, toxic masculinity theory has itself gone ‘hegemonic’.

Earlier this month the dominant US consumer goods multinational Procter & Gamble (annual revenue $65B) released a hard-hitting new ad for their ailing Gillette razor brand. After decades of gouging their customers and losing market position to new, cheaper ‘shave club’ competitors, they reasserted their supremacy – by ‘calling out’ men’s toxic behaviour.

Though in case you think they were tarring all men with the same stereotypical shaving brush, the ad did allow (at 1:06 mins in) that ‘some’ of them aren’t sexual predators and bullies, or arm-folded, burnt meat-eating enablers. And of course, associating Gillette with those few good guys battling male toxicity.

The ad was a great success – in the sense that it got people ‘talking about the brand’ and its new ‘purpose’. In an age when MSM ‘messaging’ can go entirely unnoticed, this one grabbed loads of editorial like a boss – and, much more importantly, owned people’s timelines.

And here I am, talking about it.

Actually, you’ll be relieved to hear, I don’t want to talk about it much. Everyone already has, at length – some even making good points. The only thing I want to say here about this ad is that regardless of what you think about it, whether you consider it ‘an important message’ or ‘an outrage’ – or refuse to have an opinion on it at all (though I’m not sure this is actually permitted) – it’s somewhat… paradoxical.

And I’m not talking about Gillette’s record of ‘objectification’ of women and exploitation of them with overpriced pink razors.

‘The Best That Man Can Be’ presents itself as an assault on the dominance of toxic masculinity in our culture and its terrible toll. But it is put out by one of the biggest, most powerful multinationals in the world that wants millions of men to buy its products.

If toxic masculinity is so dominant and dominating – along with the patriarchal culture that produces it and protects male power – how does this very expensive ad exist?

OK, I’m being slightly facetious. The reason it exists is because calling out toxic masculinity and ‘male privilege’ (sometimes qualified by ‘white’ but less often by class) has itself become more and more ‘dominant’ in much of the media over the last few years. A process that predated #MeToo but was turbo-charged by it. To the point where it now looks like liberal orthodoxy. Question it at your peril – unless you want to be labelled as ‘part of the problem’.

The week before Gillette went woke, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Essex released a report that claimed to show that, contrary to previous studies, men are (slightly) more disadvantaged than women in most developed countries. Previous ways of measuring inequality (the Global Gender Gap Index) are ‘biased to highlight women’s issues’, they argued – and don’t distinguish between personal preferences and social inequalities.

‘We’re not saying that women in highly developed countries are not experiencing disadvantages in some aspects of their lives. What we are saying is that an ideal measure of gender equality is not biased to the disadvantages of either gender. Doing so, we find a different picture to the one commonly presented in the media’.


prof Gijsbert Stoet, University of Essex

Perhaps that picture ‘commonly presented in the media’ is why the newsworthy and controversial study was not widely reported in the UK, aside from conservative newspaper The Daily Mail and its sister paper Metro.

And in case you imagine the University of Essex a bastion of those dreaded Men’s Rights Activists, in 2016 it gave female staff a one-off pay rise in order to raise their average salaries to the same as their male counterparts.

The study’s Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI) measures educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction. According to the rankings it produces, the UK, US and Australia all discriminate against men (slightly) more, whereas Italy, Israel and China are tougher on women. Men in developed countries receive harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service, and (many) more occupational deaths than women.

In the UK men fall somewhat behind women in years of secondary education, and more than 3.3% behind in healthy life-expectancy. Globally, men are, allegedly, disadvantaged in 91 countries compared to 43 for women.

These results suggest that the structures and culture that protects ‘male power’ are perhaps somewhat less dominant – or effective – than we have been led to believe. At least when compared to say, oh I don’t know… capitalism.

The same week massive multinational Procter & Gamble unleashed its crusading new brand purpose on the world, assimilating hegemonic masculinity theory for its campaign for market hegemony, the venerable American Psychological Association published its “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men”.

This is the first time the APA have published guidelines for boys and men. According to them, boys and men who are socialised to conform to ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ often suffer in terms of mental and physical health. Although acknowledging that concepts of masculinity vary across cultures, ages and ethnicities ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is characterised by achievement, risk, violence, dominance, anti-femininity, stigmatisation of the appearance of weakness and homophobia.

In other words, it’s much the same concept as hegemonic masculinity and its evil bro, toxic masculinity.

I think it’s good that the APA have finally released guidelines for boys and men, and of course agree that ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is related to anti-femininity, and homophobia which does indeed have a cost for men as well as women- after all, my first book Male Impersonators, published a quarter of a century ago, made similar points about the relationship of homophobia to misogyny.

Though I feel rather more ambivalent about that once radical or at least marginal critique now that it has become official doctrine. I have also documented extensively in my work how many traditional ideas about masculinity have already been largely rejected or considerably modified by young men. And were probably always much less monolithic than we imagine – or ‘hegemonic’ theories allow.

Otherwise, impossibly pretty metrosexuality and its shockingly slutty successor, spornosexuality, could never have become the mass-market global phenomenon they are.

I’m ready for you, big boy!’

Some of the media coverage of the new guidelines unwittingly illustrated this. NBC headlineed their article ‘American Psychological Association links “masculinity ideology” to homophobia, misogyny’ – and chose a suggestive photo of male bodybuilders working out at 1940s Muscle Beach, Santa Monica.

Muscle Beach was a popular pick-up area with men who wanted to meet men – including Tennessee Williams and Christopher Isherwood. Perhaps NBC’s picture editor was trying to tell us that traditional masculinity ideology has more holes in it than a Santa Monica rest-room partition? Or maybe NBC just wanted to get clicks, as you do these spornographic days, by using a hunk of male eye candy – in this case, vintage eye-candy because ‘traditional’.

Actual traditional masculinity ideology isn’t very sexy. It’s not interested in inviting our 21st Century non-binary gaze nearly enough.

The APA report itself repeatedly reminds us that gender is ‘socially-constructed’ and that men have ‘greater socioeconomic advantages’ than women – but when it talks about the problems men face it sometimes seems to imply that they themselves are to blame:

‘Despite having greater socioeconomic advantages than women, men’s life expectancy is almost 5 years shorter than women; in every ethnic group the age-adjusted death rate is higher for men than women. A sex difference in risk-taking is largely responsible for this discrepancy. For example, accidents are the leading killer among all males aged 1 to 44 in the United States (CDC 2010).


‘Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men’ – American psychological association

Men and boys’ disadvantage in life-expectancy is immediately explained by ‘a sex difference in risk-taking’ rather than, say, referring to structural problems in society – which would likely be used to explain inequalities that disadvantage women and girls.

When you look at the CDC figures for leading causes of deaths in the US for 2010 you find that ‘unintentional injuries’ are also the leading killer amongst females, ages 1-34 (falling to second place in the 35-44 category). Likewise for the most recent figures available, 2015.

So it is only in the 35-44 category that there is a ‘sex difference’ in the sense that accidental deaths are the main cause of male deaths and not for females. The total number of deaths by accident for each sex will likely be different.

But probably not as different as the figures for occupational injury deaths. In 2016, there were 4,803 male and 387 female occupational injury deaths in the United States.

Note how the total numbers fall around 2008, when the financial collapse occurred and the property/construction bubble burst. Men are of course hideously ‘dominant’ in the construction industry – and also in pretty much all the other most dangerous and often poorly-paid low-status professions, such as fishers, loggers, roofers, farm workers and refuse collectors.

Maybe this is down to the ‘sex difference in risk-taking’ of this ‘socioeconomically privileged’ category called men. Or perhaps it has something to do with structural inequalities in society, a lack of provision for (non-rich) boys’ educational needs – and the ruthless, ‘toxic’ way capitalism screws labour, whatever its gender.

But let’s not dwell on such quibbles, or question too closely the newly dominant stereotypical notions about men and masculinity. They are the correct stereotypes, after all. Gender studies has shown us this. And today’s corporate capitalism has taken these lessons on board and selflessly liberated us from boring old class conflict, replacing it with uplifting messaging around gender politics.

Besides this month, in addition to chastising men as a ‘class’, we should be celebrating the fact that extremely well-paid women are now in charge of the behemoth US war industry, by far the largest in the world.

And it would be the worst kind of whataboutery to mention that despite this blow to the patriarchy, men are still much more likely to pay the ultimate price for war.

Funny Men & Lover Boys

I’ve yet to see it, but the just-released Stan & Ollie film about Laurel and Hardy’s disastrous, almost-posthumous tour of postwar Britain seems to be about their love for one another – or our investment in the idea of it.

STAN & OLLIE – OFFICIAL MAIN TRAILER [HD] Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly

Back in the no-homo early 1990s me and my pal Nick Haeffner wrote a newspaper piece on the ‘queer’ appeal of their touching on-screen relationship and of male comedy duos in general – but it was cruelly spiked. I expanded it and included it as a chapter – ‘Funny Men’ – in my 1994 book Male Impersonators (which is, clutch the pearls, twenty five years old this year).

To celebrate the release of Stan & Ollie and also a quarter of a century of Male Impersonators, ‘Funny Men’ is available in full on my Patreon page, unlocked for a short time so non-patrons can access it. (Apologies in advance for the mention of Judith Butler – it was the early 90s and Male Impersonators was commissioned by an academic publisher.)


Unable to hold down a job for the length of a film, irresponsible, cowardly, living in the shadow of their Amazonian wives and regularly given a good pasting by them, our heroes are wonderfully, thrillingly catastrophic failures as men. Which is of course why we love them — gay or straight.

I’ve made liberal use of stills and gifs, but unfortunately Patreon doesn’t allow embedding of videos, so here’s what may be my favourite Laurel and Hardy Clip Of All Time. It’s a scenario I think we have all experienced at some point:

There's a mans hand holding on to the foot of the bed – Laurel And Hardy

Also currently unlocked on Patreon is ”Oneymoons & Bloody Deviants’ an extended essay on how gay love stories lost their way at the movies – and how a tiny ‘for schools’ film made three decades ago was much more worthy of the praise and plaudits heaped on spectacularly mediocre films like Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country.

A sentimental, soapy love story isn’t enough to carry a movie now, just because your lovers both happen to have penises. Or are highly unlikely characters. No matter how beautiful or brooding or straight acting they might be, or how impeccably metropolitan and liberal the sympathies of the impossibly rurally-located film might be.

‘It’s OK. You don’t have to watch gay films if you don’t want to.’

Oh, and remember, for as little as $1 a month you can become a patron and get access to my premium postings, early access to work and news about new projects. I can’t promise you a Scudder will climb a ladder to your bedroom for that kind of money – but hopefully you’ll get an occasional treat or two.


Fight Them On The Beaches

Mark Simpson tests Essex’s coastal defences against renovation 

(The Times Magazine, 2001)

Whitstable, Broadstairs, Brighton and most of Suffolk have gone already.  Swept away forever under a tsunami of renovation. These once proudly tatty towns have been lost forever to the unsmiling, unfriendly, label-dressed invaders who prey on coastal towns (but curiously always seem to come from inland). Planning their devastation with the aid of Psion Organisers and some back issues of House & Garden, these are the worst kind of invaders of all. These varsity-educated Vandals set about destroying your town by doing it up.

The scramble of Londoners looking for a second home where they can actually swing a cat without having to mortgage their grandmother has already taken its devastating toll on much of the South East coastline. Having made London too expensive to lie down in, City and Media types are exporting themselves and their property problem to hitherto inexpensive-but-scenic areas within striking distance of London.

For some years now, sleepy seaside towns have been awoken from their slumbers by the terrifying noise of turbo-charged Land Cruisers, the ominous clatter of Prada-shod feet and the awful rumble of extensive remodelling, as the overachieving, overactive aliens from the Big Smoke have arrived – demanding larger kitchens, ‘wet-area’ bathrooms, cafes offering café latte and shiny fitness centres with comfy sofas in the reception area.

In fact, so successful has their invasion been that they are fast running out of targets. Soon every home on the South East coast will have polished wooden floors, an Aga and a well-into-three figures asking price.

However, there is one plucky strip of coastline between Harwich and Clacton which has so far held out against this onslaught. A part of the country which is forever…Essex. What was once the South East’s first line of defence has become its last. Can this stretch of East Essex beachy coast, considered of the most likely landing point for the invasion fleets of both Napoleon and Hitler, just a tantalising hour or so from London by road and rail, hold out against the yuppie commandos?

On a grey, out-of-season day on the Essex Riviera, Clacton-on-Sea seems blissfully unaware of its imperilment. But then, perhaps this is its best defence. Maybe it’s the sky, but the sea, choppy in a bitter wind slamming in from Holland looks an unfortunate muddy colour. For its part, Clacton pier looks less like an invitation to hedonism than a factory shed on stilts. As if acknowledging the prosaic reality of the English weather, most of it is covered{ it’s one of the bitter ironies of the ‘great English seaside holiday’ that you could hardly choose a place more exposed to the damp English weather than a place by the sea.

The usual ‘attractions’ are all present and correct: dodgems, smoky amusement arcades with twitchy, solitary adolescent lads manning a machine here and there, fluorescent strip-lit works canteen caffs with moulded green plastic chairs, Formica tables and friendly matriarchs dispensing all-day breakfasts; and a palmist booth with a familiar sign outside:

This lady is here to help you with any question you want to ask her. She has advised a very famous astrologer and many other stars who cannot be named as all readings are private and confidential.

I’d like to ask Rosalee what the future holds for Clacton, but it seems she’s gone home early, perhaps to advise another star who can’t be named.

On the sandy but windswept beach, kids watched by their mums, throw stones into the sea or bread to the seagull. Mum seems to be drinking in their child’s limitless enjoyment of such simple pleasures. Probably because they know it won’t last, and soon their little angels will be demanding rave holidays in Eyeebifa. In a greasy caff on the seafront, elderly couples sit snug, sipping hot drinks, counting the summers gone and staring through the plate glass as if looking for early signs of the next one.

Truth be told, Clacton-on-Sea and its pier owe its very existence to the hated Metropolis. In 1872, when seaside holidays had become popular, a local entrepreneur, Peter Bruff, opened the pier so paddle-steamers of the Woolwich Steam Packet Company could stop and disgorge their cargo of loaded Londoners looking to large it and take in the ozone. By 1893 some 327,451 were paying to visit the pier every year. Clacton’s fortunes continued to rise, and in the 1920s-30s the pier was extended and refurbished with three theatres, a dance hall, a zoo, a funfair, amusements and the first open-air swimming pool in the country.

In 1937 Butlin’s arrived and up to 100,000 visitors, many of them Eastenders, would march through their gates every week for some sensibly regimented leisure (Hi-Di-Hi was filmed a few miles further up the coast). The 1930s was Clacton’s heyday and it’s left its mark all over the town: the municipal-style construction of the 1930s is everywhere. Here and there a few Edwardian houses contradict Romford-on-Sea demeanour of the place, but thankfully nobody takes much notice.

Then came the war and Clacton’s famous sands were covered with tank traps, mines, barbed wire and dragon’s teeth to keep out Mr Hitler, and its ‘champagne air’ was filled with the sound of air-raid sirens. Clacton never really recovered – post war, people expected more sophisticated entertainments and had the money to pay for them. Light industry kept the town ticking over, but the recession of the early 1980s put an end to that, and Clacton became a centre for high unemployment.

Along Pier Street there are more amusement arcades. But their neon flashes and the screeching electronic fun sounds seem especially stranded and unhappy. Outside one of them, in the middle of the pavement, a crane-grabber game. A couple with a slightly scruffy kid in a pushchair are playing it avidly, trying to grab a stuffed toy. They fail. They try again. They fail again.

Away from the sea, towards the centre of town, like blood that has retreated from the cold, life returns and the shops and pavements are crammed with busy shoppers, the air filled with the roar of buses and the squeal of Boy Racer tyres. Crop-haired lads in brand new Adidas walk alongside girls in smart jean jackets wheeling pushchairs. No sign of yuppification here. Not even an All-Bar One.

Certainly, space is less of a premium here than, say, Bethnal Green. According to the ads in an estate agent’s window on a 1930s esplanade in the centre of town £90,000 seems to be the going price for a three bedroomed house. Thankfully, however, most of the houses on sale in the window are ugly, fairly modern houses with double glazing, plumbing that works and no dry rot, which should deter the Londoners (what would they have to talk about at dinner parties?).  Something, more Edwardian, more renovatable, more colour supplement will cost significantly more. I pop inside the shop and ask whether Londoners are beginning to buy up property here.  The estate agent, a thirty-something year-old man in one of those estate agent suits I imagine are available through mail order, eyes me warily.  He seems to think that it’s some kind of trap.

‘Well, I don’t think I can answer that question,’ he says hurriedly, turned sideways on to me, as if getting ready to run out of the back door. ‘It’s all very well you asking that kind of question.  And in fact, it’s a question that I could maybe discuss with you – if I had a few hours to spare,’ he explains, his eyes darting around his empty shop. ‘But I don’t, I’m afraid.  Good day to you.’

(I think this meant ‘no’).

So Clacton is safe for the foreseeable future – the seafront wrapped in the arms of a garish, almost Potter-esque memory of 1930s cheap-but-no-longer-quite-so-cheerful popular escapisms, while the town exudes a ‘vulgar’ vitality that should keep most self-respecting Yuppies at bay for some time to come.

Perhaps they will strike a few miles up the coast instead, at ‘respectable’ Frinton-on-Sea, a town whose whole reason for existing would appear to be to keep Clacton and much of the rest of Essex at bay. Once through the ‘gates’ as the locals call them (they’d like you to think that they live in Camelot, but in fact all they’re referring to is a level crossing) you will find no pier, no amusement arcades, no ice-cream vans, no seafront caffs. No fun, in fact.

In a supreme act of snobbery, with the exception of a row of studiously unpainted beach huts and signs threatening heavy fines for cyclists or dog-walkers who dare to venture onto the beach, Frinton refuses to even acknowledge the sea at all. There is merely a treeless windswept green lawn – the famous ‘greensward’ – between the houses and the seafront, where today a bored teenager can be spied flying a kite. Perhaps missing the customary seaside funfair and looking for any kind of thrills he can get, he allows himself to be dragged along the grass by his own kite.

Like Clacton, Frinton also owes its origins to London past. Founded by Richard Powell Cooker in the late Nineteenth Century as a genteel seaside resort for chaps who worked in the City while their wives played tennis or maintained the pallor of their skin in their beach-huts while observing the children paddling, he laid down strict rules which forbade the cooking of tripe and the keeping of ‘houses on wheels’ in the gardens. Frinton grew rapidly and by the 1920s and 30s was the chic place to reside in the Summer.  Edward and Mrs Simpson liked to stay here and once brought their Nazi chum Von Ribbentrop. Legend has it he was so put out by the frosty reception he received from Frintonians that he told Goering to make sure that the Luftwaffe bombed Frinton, which they did in 1942.

Since then Frinton has had to accept a few modern depravities, such as a fish and chip shop (albeit called ‘Nice Fish and Chips’) and, recently – despite vigorous protests from the FRA, or Frinton Residents Association – the opening of a public house.  However the real enemies have clearly been kept at bay: there is no Seattle Coffee House on Connaught Avenue, the main drag (watch out for the electric granny carts: they’re silent, surprisingly fast and driven by demons). While the curtain shop remains a glorious, reassuring temple to chintz. No wooden Venetian blinds here.

I visit the headquarters of Frinton-on-Sea’s Home Guard, otherwise known as the tennis club.  Covered today in that Essex stucco which looks like lumpy cake icing, it was the first thing that Mr Powell built of course, and with 850 members is still going strong today (even if many of the members using the clubhouse this afternoon seem more likely to lean on a golf club than swing it). The Secretary, Lt Col (Rtd) Roger Attrill is a very genial and affable man in tweeds. But I’m not fooled. I suspect that beneath this friendly, modern demeanour is someone who, when called upon, can defend Frinton from yuppie invasion. ‘There is still a men-only bar until 6pm,’ he mentions in the course of showing me round the club. ‘The ladies have their own lounge.’

Mind, there are some very large and draughty looking old houses here. Many of them art deco. So is Frinton at risk after all? I pop into the local estate agents, where I receive a much warmer welcome than in Clacton. ‘I don’t really think there’s much evidence of people from London buying a second home here,’ admitted the estate agent. ‘Quite a few want to hire a house in the Summer, but not so many want to buy here. There’s always been a premium on property in Frinton, you see. It’s managed to maintain the distinction between itself and the surrounding areas.’ Indeed it has. An ordinary semi-detached three bedroom house in one of Frinton’s Avenues will set you back £250,000.

That settles it. Frinton is impregnable. The ‘gates’, the cladding, the curtains, the golf club and the speeding granny carts would deter but not prevent the yuppies. But the property prices make Frinton a veritable fortress against change.

‘You might want to try looking in Walton-on-the-Naze, just up the coast,’ advises the agent.  ‘There you’ll find the same sized house for about half the price.’

Now I’m a little worried. Perhaps Walton is the weak link. I’ve heard there is a marina there, and we know what that means. Once in Walton, I breathe a sigh of relief. Walton has a secret weapon ranged against the invaders – one that will strike terror into their hearts. A pier. And not just any old pier, but one that is bright yellow. So yellow, in fact, that it hurts to look at. It’s almost as if the pier is trying single-handedly to live up to the ‘Sunshine Coast’ Monika Tendring District Council have improbably given this stretch of seashore. Certainly you could get burnt if you stood too close to it.

Inside there’s the usual pier amenities and, even better, a ten-pin bowling alley which smells of chips. The pier extends an impressive 2610 feet out into the sea, and along the last 1000 feet or so are a score of single men fishing in bulky jackets and woolly hats, eyes watering in the wind. Looking landwards you can see the long sandy beach which stretches Westwards up to Frinton and above it a multi-coloured shanty town of English eccentricity, the beach huts. They seem to be clinging to the cliffs like wooden birds staring blindly out to sea, waiting for Summer to come and open their eyes again.

The winding streets of Walton don’t seem to lead anywhere much except the Naze Tower sea mark, a navigational aid for seafarers built in 1720 by Trinity House on the highest point of the Naze (an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘headland’). On it some nearly writing nearly completely worn away by two hundred years of wind and rain warns that you will be fined ‘a sum not exceeding fifty pounds’ if you vandalise it. Looking at it, however, it’s difficult to imagine how you could vandalise such a solid piece of Eighteenth century perpendicular brickwork. You would have to be very determined and even more bored. (Obviously the sign was erected before the ten pin bowling alley was installed on the pier).

From here you can make out on the horizon the silhouettes of the huge container vessels and tankers churning their way through that mud-coloured North Sea for Harwich, reportedly still training their telescopes on this very spot to make sure they don’t run aground on the treacherous offshore sand banks.

Only a few feet from the tower is the cliff edge, and on the beach below, some distance from the cliffs, are Second World War concrete pillboxes (which would make such lovely bungalow conversions, in the minimalist-brutalist style). Now covered in seaweed and limpets, but which once scanned the horizon for Mr Hitler’s invasion barges that never came.

The sea round here is however intent on its own invasion and remodelling, and it’s winning. Slowly this part of Walton is falling into the sea. In a few years, the Naze Tower itself will tumble onto the beach below. Alas, change isn’t always something inflicted by human activity, or property prices.

Looking on the bright side, however, it does mean that the Naze Tower will probably escape the indignity being converted into loft apartments.

Glenn Or Glennda?

Last month I spent a stimulating and highly satisfying weekend with Glennda Orgasm.

Or rather, the artiste formerly known as Glennda Orgasm, my old (but forever youthful) pal Glenn Belverio, who wise-cracked and bang-flicked his way to fame in the early 1990s, his svelte frame clad in couture frocks  on a NYC cable TV public access show, asking thoughtful and provocative questions while gripping an unfeasibly large microphone.

Glenn was so YouTube long before YouTube existed.

Glenn pulled the plug on his TV show in 1996, and mothballed Glennda in 1997 – drag was getting far too popular – and turned himself into a fashion writer and author. But not before he and the cheeky Canadian queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce contributed to Anti-Gay, the ‘incendiary’ 1996 collection of essays by non-heterosexuals critiquing lesgay identity politics I edited. It was a transcript of an asthma-inducingly funny episode of Glennda’s show titled ‘A Case For The Closet’.

By way of thanks (there wasn’t much of a fee) I hosted him in London the same year when he had a Glennda Orgasm retrospective at the ICA. I met him at Heathrow Arrivals with my loud-and-proud MTF friend Michelle  holding a card scrawled in magic marker: ‘MISS ORGASM’.

I still have fond memories of his wig menagerie that took over my living room. It was the beginning of a long friendship, though quite why Glenn even speaks to me when I’m so unkind to him I don’t know

The last time I saw Glenn, more than two years ago in Rome we were surrounded by naked fascist bubble butts. Somehow we survived the ordeal. 

So back to our weekend together. Glenn was visiting the UK last month for the launch of ‘Still I Rise’, an exhibition ‘exploring the role that women have played in the history of resistance movements and alternative forms of living’ pegged to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery.

Bravely – and admirably, given an increasingly censorious climate – the exhibition’s organisers had included his hilariously incorrect 1993 caper with the anti-feminist feminist motormouth Ms Paglia at the peak of her global fame and alarming energy. Called Glennda And Camille Do Downtown it memorably features them running into feminist anti-porn protesters picketing an adult book store.

The activists suddenly become very camera shy, moving away and actually hiding behind their placards. Paglia goes 60s streetwise nuclear on the ‘anti sex, anti art, anti-everything’ protestors (flanked by her big black bodyguards):

‘YOU FINALLY HAVE SOMEONE WHO CAN DEAL WITH YOU AND YOU ARE SHRINKING!! YOU PEOPLE ARE WIMPS!!’

Glennda is less confrontational, resorting to humour that even has some of the protestors smiling:

‘A day without porn is like a day without sunshine!’

Needless to say, twenty five years later the anti-porn demonstrators are now running everything. Even Tumblr.

I joined Glenn in Nottingham, the city of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning – tormenting him with my dietary requirements (I can’t eat onion – which is essentially the basic ingredient of all food) and my dyspeptic opinions. Glenn for his part entertained me with his wickedly funny mimicry of mutual friends and spooked me as he always does with his quite monstrous ability to remember everything. He has total, terrifying recall. I really had better stay on the right side of Glenn.

Due to inclement weather, we spent an afternoon in the National Justice Museum, on the site of the former County Gaol. Though I’m sure quite a few people think we should have spent rather longer there than an afternoon. It was fun inspecting the dungeons and the oubliette – every home should have one. But even more fun watching the re-enactment of an 18th Century trial of a lady pickpocket and a public hanging (they have the last working public gallows).

I think part of our fascination was because Glenn and I had little doubt that if we’d been around a couple of hundred years ago this is where we would have ended up.

I liked the way the ‘Still I Rise’ exhibition included resistance and rebellion (something Nottingham has a long history of) as a motif and especially appreciated the 70s-80s poster agitprop section by the See Red Women’s Workshop, some of which was familiar to me from my early 80s Brixton squat days. One poster in particular caught our attention – depicting the drudgery trap of marriage. Glenn and I of course immediately and selfishly reinterpreted it as a Pythonesque satire on the false promises of gay marriage. 

Glenn recorded dozens of shows between 1990-1996 but, criminally, only Glennda And Camille Do Downtown is available online. All the other shows still need to be transferred from video to digital format. Apparently Glenn’s distributor Lux are very keen to undertake that task. Let’s hope they get cracking soon.

Glennda needs to rise again.

You can read Glenn’s write up of his visit, the exhibition and the launch here

Glennda and Camille Do Downtown (featuring Camille Paglia)

Still I Rise: 27 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019, Nottingham Contemporary; 9 Feb – 2 Jun 2019, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea