Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Means To An End

Credit: ESA / V. Beckmann (NASA-GSFC)

An artist's depiction of the accretion of a thick ring of dust into a supermassive black hole. The accretion produces jets of gamma rays and X-rays.
A track that really sounds, for at least a few bars, like you are disappearing through a black hole in which nothing exists except you, it and the aggregate visuals of your past lives, is the soundcheck of Joy Division’s 'A Means To An End' from Disc Two of the 2007 reissue of Still.

Soundtracking the nauseous lurchings of the solar plexus as the body skirts closer to death, it is the music of Dante's Divine Comedy, and Rodin's The Gates of Hell, but can only be heard in The Thinker's area of the sublime. Hence, I don’t know whether I am ascending or descending. It feels like those nervous moments on a plane where the sound of the engines suddenly ceases and the plane itself seems to drift. The instruments themselves fade in and out of the track. At the beginning of the first chorus, there is no bass nor much of a lead guitar, only drums, heavy and bassy themselves, and yet there is still an exquisitely restrained atmosphere as if all the instruments are being thrashed with great intensity, but with headphones plugged in.  The atmosphere is black, like the dead-air-space coined by Radiohead, but nacreous gases in pink, blue and purple are rising, slowly, with only the merest hints of pale yellow and green. And then bang!  The descending bassline crashes through the ground with the drums in perfect harmony like two malign lovers skydiving; the lead guitar follows like the ephemera from the mid-air collision, the blast illuminating the night sky as I tumble irredeemably through the booming black hole, fearless and ecstatic, with the chemistry between the instruments, just drums, lead guitar and bass, the bass pervasive like nothing else in Joy Division, and slightly off-key, manifesting the beauty and power of that which I had never understood. Here, sound is superior to vision; I can only see the sinews of strumming forearms in hell as they almost burst.  I knew I shouldn’t bother to try critiquing anything so sacred, but it’s not a critique, merely a visualisation. 

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Sleeping Man (After Exposed)

Men, I watch the reflection of as I look into glass-fronted pictures at art exhibitions.

Men, I am too shy to openly direct my attentions toward. Sexual tensions are only a moment in manifestation, before repression wells up inside like a marshmallow monster.

As I walked through the exhibition Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, I remembered all the times I watched someone in their bathroom behind a frosted or distorted glass window, or someone watching someone else, ignorant of himself in turn being watched, or hesitated when walking by a slightly-ajar door to capture the shapes and shadows within, or looked out of my window and seen a man sitting topless at his desk in an apartment below and opposite, and waited and watched until he stood up and demonstrated his pink, fleshy nakedness. I remembered the reflection in a puddle on the floor of a man masturbating his beautiful cock in the cubicle next to me at Birmingham New Street station. Fear and shame precluded me from action, but now I realise that post-exposure, where no glory hole can be found, a little strategically directed piss on the floor can facilitate the desire of a man, above all, to be objectified, sexualised, worshipped, fucked.

Pre- the World Wide Web, men have not been used to being objectified, perhaps since the Romans, and still aren’t, save for a minority of top-shelf magazines.

In the early days of candid photography, people were so much more innocent. In the main, they couldn’t afford a studio photographer’s portrait services, and didn’t know how to act or pose; there was less access to cinema and imagery to teach people how to make clichés of themselves. Subjects were freer, and must have found the interest of a man with a camera as a special honour rather than an intrusion.

In this democracy, in which we all possess cinematic, literary, visual, musical and voyeuristic minds, we all know how to be watched. I long to return to the era before twenty-four-hour, multi-channel TV and movies-on-demand, YouTube and Big Brother, before everyone stopped pretending and posing like their favourite star, being instead themselves, quite deserving the fifteen minutes of fame (they were denied for being ordinary and uninteresting) for being unique and expressive, and human.

I watch men on tube trains and buses, ordinary men whom no one else would afford more than a glance (or so I thought; various of my friends share the same nondescript tastes). I look, awaken him to my attention, and he looks back, but catches himself, and looks away. Yet his body language orients him towards me; he even steps nearer, and on a packed bus, stands in front and adjacent, and close to my knee, the very leg hairs within my jeans standing up to reach out to his. He opens up his body by holding onto the ceiling rails on both sides. A girl in front accidentally knocks into him with her backpack. They smile at each other politely, but for a split-second longer than necessary. The hard-on I gave him is now directed into her. 

Ignoring him therein, I don’t even look up until I notice that he has alighted the bus. But now there is another man, who is yet to realise and maybe never will, that while he looks all around for women to fuck, I’m the one who’ll suck.

Less aware than the previous guy, I consider him in profile, the slightly flat back of his head suggesting an Eastern European regionality. He is thick-set and physical, and slightly dusty, a workman, maybe a builder. His beautiful nose is a perfect length and width, curving slightly outwards in the middle and ending in a curt, soft stub, implying a taut, hard cock. I tell myself to engage him in conversation, find out what makes him smile, what makes him happy; look into his eyes and see how comfortable he is, and how long it takes him to nestle into the cradle of my gaze; taste his mouth, embrace him and teach him how to drink me in. I keep it in my head. I want to know what his ass is like, open. He glances at me for the first time, and when the seat next to me becomes vacant, sits down. He smokes. I can smell it on him. I lose the idea of him.

One of the most memorable images in the Exposed show is of a female photographer cowering with one hand yet holding out her camera with the other to capture a monstrous Jack Nicholson attacking her with a golf club. I would hate to put myself at that level of risk just to take a picture, but do know what it is to be surreptitious, and have the heart race, and the palms sweat.

I was recently sent on a press trip to Hamburg, where I indulged myself in the wall-to-wall sex on offer with careless abandon (not that careless, I was safe). My holiday (how can they send a man like me on a press trip to Hamburg during Pride and expect me to be a well-behaved ambassador?) began the moment I stepped onto the Piccadilly Line, threw down my weekend bag in the luggage recess and sat down next to it, diagonally opposite a beautiful older man, again thick-set and potent-looking, with the neck of a bear and forearms like hams-on-the-bone, and massive thighs, between which sat, seemingly breathing and pulsing independently from the rest of his body, an enormous packet.

Moreover, he was asleep, or rather snoozing, in the manner we all occasionally find ourselves doing, in the middle of the day, waking up at each stop to assure ourselves that we haven’t passed irredeemably into some strange other dimension courtesy of our sketchy daydreams, before powerlessly nodding back into semi-oblivion. It afforded me the opportunity to watch him from behind my slightly tinted Cazals, without any fear of being noticed. I couldn’t help but seize upon a further opportunity.
Man on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Terminals 4 and 1,2,3
A few months earlier, I was on an N29 night bus back home from Soho, sitting in the one of the four facing seats at the front, opposite a foreign man of indeterminate nationality, maybe Albanian, and an old Chinawoman. The man, dressed sloppily in regular-fit jeans and a tight T-shirt not quite long enough to cover his moderately hairy paunch, appeared terribly drunk, like a cartoon character burping intoxicated bubbles. He looked upon the vex-faced Chinawoman as if she were the object of his sexual desire, vaguely and longingly. Across in the other set of facing seats were two bare-legged chav-girls coming home from a night dancing, wearing cheap platform heels and very short, butt-skimming dresses, seemingly teasing the Albanian – who clumsily flitted his attentions between the tense old Chinawoman and the two girls – by opening and closing their legs subtly, as if to gently spray the perfume of their pussies in his direction (à la Glade plug-ins). So keen was he to see the source of this reference, up one of the girls’ skirts, that he leaned out into the aisle just as the bus turned a corner, sending him crashing out of his seat with a cushioned thud (courtesy of his meaty right shoulder) that almost sobered him up, but not quite. Like an old man holding back a heart attack, he clambered red-faced into his seat, folded his arms, nestled his ass, and fell asleep, as if nothing had happened.

Very soon the old Chinawoman got up, and got off the bus. Appearing for that moment almost completely sober, he shifted across and took her place opposite me, and fell asleep again. Immediately I noticed – why hadn’t I before? – the great lump in his trousers, an apparent semi-erection curving down between his legs, and pulsing. I appraised my current situation, sat on a bus with earphones in, listening to New Order on my iPhone (and therefore blocking out the drunken reveries that resonate like every bar and club you’d never be caught dead in, in one enclosed space), sitting opposite a man whose knee is touching mine, his legs apart, revealing a tanned slice of beer belly and a swollen cock barely restrained in the worn fabric of his jeans. My iPhone has a camera, and with my earphones in, I can pretend to be scrolling through iTunes while I capture the monster within:
Man on the N29
Man on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Terminals 4 and 1,2,3 (2)
Having achieved this, it was still with the tension of a thief that I took out my iPhone and blatantly shot twenty-nine frames and four video clips of the man on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Terminals 4, and 1,2,3, even in the moments he sat awake, and shifted position, his heavy cock and balls apparently the immovable pivot around which the rest of his beefy body rotated. All along I feared being whistle-blown by an outraged fellow passenger, but I was allowed to steal freely. I shot him as he slept, as he woke, as he shifted forwards, as he opened and closed his legs, as he listened out for information when we were held at Hounslow, as he scratched himself.

Like a man from times they talk about when men were really men, his heftiness implied the presence of a labourer, although polished and ready to travel. It was then that I noticed he was wearing a beautiful watch, and had a copy of The Times folded up in a side pocket of his outdoor-purpose backpack. As much as I believe in a ‘working-class intelligentsia’ (thank you, Dr. Jim), I have not spotted any builders reading quality dailies. This was a refined, cultured, silver daddy of a man, with the masculinity of a bull, i.e. the man of my dreams, and much as I had to steal from him, he’s now mine forever.

Delineation: Words in Progress

When I was a child I was scared of washing machines. I couldn't walk past one for fear that I would be sucked in by it. My paternal grandmother's house was the worst, because the living room could only be accessed via the small kitchen, in which there was a narrow gap between the dining table and the washing machine. One day, when I was four, I arrived there with my dad, and the washing machine was on spin. I was holding his hand, and as he proceeded through the kitchen, I froze and dug my heels into the floor. He laughed and made fun of me out of embarrassment, and took my hand. I screamed. I would not walk past that washing machine. He picked me up and put me high on his shoulder, and took me through to the living room. I subsequently rationalised the fact that if the washing machine wasn't able to swallow my six-foot-tall father, and I was on his shoulder, then I was safe.


I'm at a time when I'm not able to write much creatively. I don't know why, and I shouldn't just accept it, but even after ten years of experimenting as a self-identified writer, fear of a blank page still seizes me in that same way. I don't know what I am going to say, or how it will come out, if indeed anything will come out at all. The longer I leave it, the more difficult it gets. Starting on a blank page, in the case of writing or drawing, is like facing a black hole, or, for a four-year-old with a spectacular imagination who perhaps hasn't watched enough TV, a banal household appliance. To use an unavoidable chiché (I can't be arsed to try to come up with anything more eloquent), it is a step into the unknown. Only when you pick up the pen, pencil or pastel, or strike the keys on the laptop, will you write or draw.


Sometimes, though, you need a pick-up. Sometimes you need an authority figure to rationalise your delusions and demonstrate that everything will be okay, someone who will click their fingers metaphorically and bring you back to reality. The washing machine is not a black hole that will spin out of control and swallow up the world within its wet cotton folds. The blank page is not going to jump up in your face and suffocate you. 


From an irrational fear, washing machines soon became an obsession. I was the weird six-year old actually sitting on the kitchen floor amongst a five-person family's piles of dirty laundry, watching the drum go round one way a few revolutions and back round the other, sounding like a generator in a sci-fi film, the warm water lapping up against the concave window.  I sat smelling the smells of the kitchen, dominated by the unreachable dirt between the washing machine and the kitchen carcass, and the congealed fat in the fryer. The drum of the washing machine reminded me of my other obsession - cars. I would be pressed up against the rear window, watching faster cars swoosh past my dad's beige Cortina. I loved wet roads, when the cars overtaking us looked particularly dynamic, their wheels gliding through planes of water, spraying it up like a thumb over a hosepipe. Like the drum of a washing machine on spin.