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Avaragado’s 2013 predictions – results

Here we are again. New Year’s Eve, fireworks, and celebrations filmed several weeks ago presented as if live TV. And most importantly, the results of my fabulous 2013 predictions – as marked by Chris Walsh, as usual. Commentary etc in square brackets.


  1. ✗ The Assad regime in Syria will fall. [Bashar al-Assad still President of Syria]
  2. ✓ There will be no changes in US federal gun-control laws. [Obama has called for tighter gun control, but no actual laws yet]
  3. ✓ The Duchess of Cambridge will give birth to a human boy. [21-Jul: Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to the future king]
  4. ✗ At least one Tory MP will defect to UKIP. [Plenty of councillors defected, and one UKIP MEP defected to the Conservatives, but this specific prediction proved false]
  5. ✗ The equal marriage bill for England and Wales will pass in the Commons but not the Lords. [15-Jul: Equal marriage bill for England and Wales has passed its Third Reading in the House of Lords]
  6. ✓ Dangerous idiot Michael Gove will be involved in a scandal over the exam board selection process for the new EBacc exams. [07-Feb: Education Secretary to announce dramatic climbdown over plans to scrap GCSEs]

[Score: 3/6]


  1. ✓ Manchester United will win the FA Premier League. [22-Apr: Manchester United won their 13th Premier League title by defeating Aston Villa 3-0 at Old Trafford]
  2. ✗ Chelsea FC will change manager at least twice. [Only one change of manager in 2013: Benitez -> Mourinho]
  3. ✓ At least one British person will win a Wimbledon title. [08-Jul: Andy Murray wins Wimbledon 2013 men’s singles final with straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic]
  4. ✓ Mo Farah will win at least one gold medal at the World Athletics Championships. [10-Aug: Won the 10,000m. Also 16-Aug: Won 5,000m]
  5. ✗ Rory McIlroy will win at least two majors in golf. [Wikipedia: “McIlroy began 2013 with high aspirations, but mostly did not fare well in early tournaments… 25th place at the 2013 Masters Tournament… won the 2013 Emirates Australian Open]
  6. ✗ At least one footballer playing in the UK will come out as gay or bisexual. [Robbie Rogers, but he plays in the USA]

[Score: 3/6]

Science and technology

  1. ✓ Microsoft will buy Nokia. [03-Sep: Microsoft to buy Nokia’s mobile phone unit]
  2. ✗ Scientists will announce the synthesis of one or more atoms of element 119 or higher. [Ununseptium remains the most recently synthesised transuranic element, in 2010. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned]
  3. ✓ NASA will declare that Voyager 1 has left the solar system and entered interstellar space. [12-Sep: Voyager 1 departs to interstellar space]
  4. ✗ Scientists will announce the discovery of an ‘Earth twin’ – an Earth-sized exoplanet within the habitable zone of its star. [Kepler 78b is the same size as Earth, and has same proportions of iron and rock, but is so close to the sun that its year lasts 8.5 hours, rendering it a little too toasty to be habitable]
  5. ✓ The year will be one of the ten warmest years in the global record, and warmer than 2012, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. [13-Nov: “The year 2013 is currently on course to be among the top ten warmest years since modern records began. January-September 2013 was warmer than the same period in both 2011 and 2012.” We’re catching up with Kepler 78b!]
  6. ✓ Archaeologists will confirm that the bones dug up in a Leicester car park are those of Richard III. [04-Feb: DNA confirms bones are king’s]

[Score: 4/6]


  1. ✗ Lincoln will receive the Oscar for Best Picture. [Feb-24: Argo]
  2. ✓ Daniel Day-Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.
  3. ✓ Jennifer Lawrence will receive the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
  4. ✓ The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will involve appearances (in newly filmed scenes) from at least one former Doctor. [23-Nov: Tennant and Baker T, plus future Doctor!]
  5. ✗ The BBC will cancel The Sky at Night (probably while pretending not to). [Still running – Maggie Aderin-Pocock announced in December 2013 as a new presenter]
  6. ✓ The UK entry will finish in the third quarter of the rankings (ie, top half of the bottom half) in the Eurovision Song Contest. [1pt. 18-May: 19th out of 26 puts us 73% of the way down the leader board]

[Score: 4/6]

Celebrity Deathwatch

[We decided to award half a point per death to make the scores more compatible with predictions from previous years, since I included double the usual number of names in this section. We also abandoned the idea to score based on ages.]

  1. ✗ Denis Healey (95)
  2. ✓ Nelson Mandela (94) [Died 5-Dec aged 95]
  3. ✗ Mickey Rooney (92)
  4. ✗ Nancy Reagan (91)
  5. ✗ Richard Attenborough (89)
  6. ✗ Robert Mugabe (88)
  7. ✗ George H. W. Bush (88)
  8. ✓ Richard Briers (78) [Died 17-Feb aged 79]
  9. ✗ Barry Humphries (78)
  10. ✗ Shirley MacLaine (78)
  11. ✗ Bill Murray (62)
  12. ✗ Piers Morgan (47)

[Score: 1/6]

[Total score: 15/30]

A staggering score of 50%! This makes 2013 officially my most successful year ever for predictions. And if the trend of alternating better-worse but generally rising is anything to go by, my predictions for 2014 are on course for 40%. Though I can reveal that’s not one of my official 2014 predictions, otherwise we’re adrift in a glittering sea of meta.

Anyway, return soon for the 2014 predictions in all their 40%-likely glory.


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Aggressive homosexuals vs aggressive heterosexuals

This morning I created an image and posted it to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Here’s the tweet:

For context: the phrase “aggressive homosexuals” comes from a speech yesterday in the House of Commons by Sir Gerald Howarth MP (Conservative, Aldershot) during the Report stage debate of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Sir Gerald is the current chairman of Conservative Way Forward and was Minister for International Security Strategy in the coalition government until September 2012 (according to his page on Wikipedia). Here’s where the phrase appeared in the speech:

“There are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this [same-sex marriage] is as but a stepping stone to something even further.” (Hansard — no idea how persistent that link will be though.)

Sir Gerald doesn’t elaborate on exactly who the aggressive homosexual community are, or where he thinks the big gay stepping stone leads. As Hansard shows, a number of MPs tried to intervene at that point — perhaps to press him on this issue — but he declined to give way, as is his right.

It is difficult not to conclude that Sir Gerald sees pinks under the beds. He’s worked himself up into a froth about The Gays and believes that we, or at least a significant and influential slice thereof, subscribe to some kind of Gay Agenda to… I don’t know. Insinuate our way into marriage, and then what: use it to destroy the established church? I think the church is doing a perfectly good job of that itself over both gay people and women. Perhaps, looking at the context of the speech, he thinks our goal is to turn children to homosexuality by ensuring its mention in classrooms during discussions about marriage. Just as, presumably, teaching them about different religions converts them to all of those religions, or teaching them about contour lines turns them into a hill.

Back to the image.

The response has been fascinating. A steady stream of retweets throughout the day — perhaps not surprising, as it makes a strong statement on a topical, politically charged subject — and a few responses. Here are the negative replies so far:

“You do realise that despite your intentions, you’re labelling people with stereotypes.”

“That is way more offensive and way less clever than you think.”

“No. Aggressive homophobes.”

“What’s the intended goal of this? This seems to just further divide people (and straw-man the ‘other side’).”

“This is heterophobia.”

“Yeah a bit discriminatory. Ronnie Kray was a violent homosexual as was Richard the Lionheart. And let us not forget Dennis Nilsen. Violent people are of both persuasions.  Nothing to do with their sexuality.”

“Please be careful with that big stereotyping brush of yours eh?”

I haven’t replied to anyone, at least not yet. I probably won’t — it’s impossible to have meaningful debates in 140 characters. Perhaps some of them were unaware of Sir Gerald’s speech. Of course I’m stereotyping: so was Sir Gerald. Of course sexuality doesn’t determine whether you’re violent or not (but if you have to go back eight centuries for a counterexample — when sexuality was viewed very differently to today, incidentally — then you’re already on shaky ground).

The image is deliberately exaggerated, deliberately stereotypical. But it’s also showing an incontrovertible truth. You don’t, as a rule, see gay people demonstrating against straight people — Pride marches are positive in tone, not negative — but there are demonstrations by straight people against gay people, trying to deny us the rights they enjoy. There was a demonstration against equal marriage outside Parliament during the debate yesterday. And people like those shown in the image are beaten for no other reason than their sexuality. One of the men pictured was attacked last weekend with his boyfriend. Even 45 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales it is still not safe for two men, breaking no law, to show affection wherever they wish in the way that a man and a woman can.

This is why the phrase aggressive homosexual community is so offensive. Gay people have suffered at the hands of the aggressive heterosexual community, indeed often through state-sponsored aggression, for several hundred years. We suffer still: religious leaders preach hate, political leaders deny us equality, and in some countries being open about our sexuality means a death sentence. And this is why I make no apology for the image, stereotypes and all.

But Sir Gerald Howarth is right on one point: we in the aggressive homosexual community do want equal marriage to be a stepping stone to something. We want it to be a stepping stone to the end of discrimination. To universal acceptance. To normality.

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Avaragado’s 2013 predictions

2012! Who could forget the glorious summer? The coronation of Queen (formerly Sir Alan) Amidala? Britain’s abject failure in the 1500m tug-of-raw at the organic Spacelympics? The universal acclaim for the politics of austerity?

As the dregs of the year drip from the meths bottle of tomorrow into the tramp’s mouth of history and dribble through the foetid beard of ornithology onto the mangy dog’s head of clinical studies at Guy’s Hospital, it is time to stare resolutely past the tramp’s outstretched palm of invisibility to what 2013 will bring forth, or perhaps fifth. Here’s what I think:


  1. The Assad regime in Syria will fall.
  2. There will be no changes in US federal gun-control laws.
  3. The Duchess of Cambridge will give birth to a human boy.
  4. At least one Tory MP will defect to UKIP.
  5. The equal marriage bill for England and Wales will pass in the Commons but not the Lords.
  6. Dangerous idiot Michael Gove will be involved in a scandal over the exam board selection process for the new EBacc exams.


  1. Manchester United will win the FA Premier League.
  2. Chelsea FC will change manager at least twice.
  3. At least one British person will win a Wimbledon title.
  4. Mo Farah will win at least one gold medal at the World Athletics Championships.
  5. Rory McIlroy will win at least two majors in golf.
  6. At least one footballer playing in the UK will come out as gay or bisexual.

Science and technology

  1. Microsoft will buy Nokia.
  2. Scientists will announce the synthesis of one or more atoms of element 119 or higher.
  3. NASA will declare that Voyager 1 has left the solar system and entered interstellar space.
  4. Scientists will announce the discovery of an ‘Earth twin’ – an Earth-sized exoplanet within the habitable zone of its star.
  5. The year will be one of the ten warmest years in the global record, and warmer than 2012, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
  6. Archaeologists will confirm that the bones dug up in a Leicester car park are those of Richard III.


  1. Lincoln will receive the Oscar for Best Picture.
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.
  3. Jennifer Lawrence will receive the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
  4. The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will involve appearances (in newly filmed scenes) from at least one former Doctor.
  5. The BBC will cancel The Sky at Night (probably while pretending not to).
  6. The UK entry will finish in the third quarter of the rankings (ie, top half of the bottom half) in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Celebrity Deathwatch

In previous years I’ve named six people. This year I thought I’d round it up to nine, but then discovered three of my names overlapped with Andrew’s (caution: Facebook). Consequently I added three more, to make twelve.

Also, I’m adopting Andrew’s scoring system: each valid death (occurring at any time in the year) scores that person’s age at death subtracted from 100. For example, an 85-year-old’s death would score 15 points, and a 101-year-old’s would score -1 point (thus making it a daft choice). For reference, I’ve included the age of each of my selected celebrities, as at January 1st 2013.

  1. Denis Healey (95)
  2. Nelson Mandela (94)
  3. Mickey Rooney (92)
  4. Nancy Reagan (91)
  5. Richard Attenborough (89)
  6. Robert Mugabe (88)
  7. George H. W. Bush (88)
  8. Richard Briers (78)
  9. Barry Humphries (78)
  10. Shirley MacLaine (78)
  11. Bill Murray (62)
  12. Piers Morgan (47)

Please join me next New Year’s Eve for the official adjudication and other assorted lols.


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Tumbleweeds and plugs

I apologise, dearest reader, for the tumbleweeds bouncing through this blog in recent weeks. I have been neglecting you in favour of another: pouring my frothing muse into longer works of fiction. I’m pleased to say the first of these has now set and been whittled into editorial shape via the passage of time, a drawer, and some helpful feedback.

I’m not writing as David Smith since that returns more hits on Google than there are atoms in the universe. To be read you first have to be found, and my real name is — unless you are very determined — a near-synonym for anonymous. Not Anonymous, just anonymous.

Nor am I writing as Avaragado, as people can’t say it (av-uh-ruh-GAH-doe) or spell it (tip: it’s all a’s apart from the o) and I’d need to make up a first name or last name to jigsaw onto it or else spend precious nerd energy fighting Facebook and Google+ naming policies.

After much deliberation I settled on Anthony Camber. “Anthony” is my middle name and my Dad’s name; and “Camber” is, as many of you know, a place on the south coast that holds fond memories for me, and which I’ve been visiting on and off all my life. And, excitingly, I could get anthonycamber.com and @anthonycamber, and there’s nobody else with that name on Amazon, and there doesn’t appear to be an under-23 Welsh rugby player with that name, and so on.

The first story I’m publishing is a novella, running at just under 25,000 words. If you haven’t already zipped over to anthonycamber.com it’s called Till Undeath Do Us Part, and it’s about zombies in Cambridge (with a side-order of gay). As much as I’d like to claim the label it’s not exactly a HomZomRomCom, but there are elements of all four oms. It is apparently “A right rollicking read” and “Highly recommended” (Mr C Walsh, Cheque-in-the-Post, Cottenham).

It’s available now on Kindle. You can, and indeed you must, start reading in under a minute. iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch owners will have to wait up to a couple of weeks for it to emerge glittering from Apple’s mysterious approval process into the iBookstore, or use the Kindle reader app/site instead.

I already have a first draft of a second story: longer, at 64,000 words. It’ll be available in a month or two I expect, once I have battered it into shape.

I make no pretence of literary greatness. I’m writing because I enjoy writing. If people like it and pay me for it, even better. I will, of course, do almost anything in exchange for gushing, five-star reviews and shameless pimping.


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I’ve written before how I dislike it when stage plays, TV shows and films still manage to be all about the gay even in the twenty-first century. Well, Weekend is one of those, about every aspect of teh gay — except, thankfully, the overblown HIV trope — and yet does not feel like it. From ten thousand feet it’s full of the usual stereotypes that replaced the old campy, mincing Graysons and Humphrieses: the meat market, drug-taking, one-night stands, casual homophobia, checked shirts and beards. Yet these are window dressing. Strip them away and you’re left with a raw core of universal truths. A desire for relevance, for belonging. A fear of commitment, of loneliness. What could be, what might have been.

Russell is semi-closeted, nominally happy but groping for meaning and not truly comfortable in his skin. Glen is out, brash, confident and charismatic with a heavy sprinkling of militant. One you’d be happy to show off to your parents; the other would undoubtedly upset the teacups with a well-meaning but entirely mistimed rant about heteronormativity. It is fair to say you find both types in the real world in abundance.

The film follows Russell over the course of a weekend, from just before his first meeting with Glen until — well, no spoilers. It’s an eventful few days, for both of them, and an inflection point in both their lives. Decisions, revelations, uncomfortable truths. Fundamental changes in their relationships with their closest friends. Universal themes, here seen from an authentic and unashamedly gay perspective.

One problem is that, as a rainbow warrior myself, it is all familiar stuff. It might be a sparkling revelation to the hetties that gays aren’t all of one mind, programmed by Cyber Controller Russell T. Davies with the same set of beliefs and the same agenda. The truth is, and please find a comfortable armchair for this dramatic announcement, we have different opinions. Most of us have at some stage been on one, other or both sides of the arguments portrayed in the film. You should hear what’s said about John Barrowman.

Weekend is shot in a naturalistic style, almost entirely with a handheld camera. The dialogue feels real, and indeed was partially ad libbed. You rarely feel a sense of staging; more than once it appears as though the actors were simply miked up and told to get on with it in a real crowd.

The film’s focus on just Russell and Glen, and primarily Russell, is relentless and almost total. In some scenes the camera stays close on Russell even as he interacts with other characters, who barely enter the frame. Many scenes are shot as long, single takes, often with a long lens, between the jackets of strangers on a tram or through drinkers in a bar. These techniques draw you in from dispassionate third-party, to voyeur, to intimate participant.

Both leads deliver excellent performances. Chris New (Glen) is an actualgay whereas Tom Cullen (Russell) is just gay-for-play, but it doesn’t particularly show.

The film is very definitely an 18: there is drug-taking, there is nudity, there is sex. None of it is gratuitous. Apparently the Daily Mail didn’t like it, which you can interpret as you see fit.

Some films you walk out of and instantly forget. Some you rant about, or laugh about, or immediately look up on IMDb to discover the goofs you missed. Some you shake your head at and say, “I wish George Lucas had stopped making films in 1990.”

Weekend made me want to write something like Weekend.

Avaragado’s rating: assorted munchies

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Someone has to be second

At last, a professional footballer has come out: Anton Hysén, son of eighties mulleted Kop legend Glenn. OK, he plays in the fourth tier of Swedish football – unlikely to hear the siren call of Abramovich gold or to wear his country’s cap any time soon – but he’s a professional footballer, he’s out, and he’s proud. And it has to start somewhere. Well, start againJustin Fashanu was first, twenty years ago.

Hysén emerges blinking into the rainbow just a few weeks after England cricketer Steven Davies. Both still young, eligible and non-munty, both hopefully with long careers to come, neither willing to sacrifice their personal happiness to the bigotry and intolerance of a dwindling minority of thugs and churchgoers.

The received wisdom is that Davies will have an easier time of it from spectators than Hysén. If your IQ is high enough to appreciate the rules and nuance of cricket, I suspect the theory goes, you won’t stampede to the exit in a froth of green-inked indignation whenever Davies adjusts his box.

Conversely, football is watched by walking tattoos: illiterate, innumerate, unthinking yobs judging sexuality by the chunkiness of a scarf’s knit and the heft of a fatty overhang.

Not true, of course. Gays watch and play football. Bigots watch and play cricket. The lazy stereotypes of the footballing thug and the TMS-addicted, bespectacled connoisseur of cricket are just as prevalent as that of the mincing, bitchy, promiscuous, diseased, cottaging queen. They exist: but are they the norm? Which way lies the trend?

It’s entirely possible that Hysén will receive no abuse from crowds, and that Davies will. Next time England play the West Indies in Jamaica, I virtually guarantee it.

However, just as we have the wisdom of crowds, we have the dumb predictability of crowds: past performance is a good indicator of future performance. The chances are that Hysén will receive more stick than Davies, though my hunch is that Swedish football crowds are more tolerant than English or Scottish ones – and vastly more tolerant than those of some other countries like Croatia or Russia.

I confess I am fascinated by how this will play out. How will the men themselves react to any grief they receive? How will their teammates and opponents respond? Or the stewards, or the police, or the rest of the crowd?

This is a social experiment being conducted in football for the first time in a generation, and in cricket for the first time ever. When rugby’s Gareth Thomas came out not long ago there was abuse from one crowd in one match – and the club and the authorities came down hard. Sadly there’s no guarantee that football and cricket would follow suit.

And Hysén’s experiences in tier four of Swedish football, whatever they are, might not transfer unchanged to the Emirates or Old Trafford, or even to Greenhous Meadow of League Two’s Shrewsbury Town, the rough equivalent of Hysén’s current club Utsiktens BK. Davies, though, is an international cricketer already and was part of the recent England tour of Australia. You can be sure that other gay footballers, other gay cricketers, and other gay people in other sports are watching this experiment with a wary eye. It could open the big gay floodgates, or bolt the closet door shut for another generation – or both.

Let’s assume that Hysén has the strength and character to play on despite any heckling and that Davies continues his Surrey and England careers untroubled by the vein-popping rage of Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells. What then?

Would an English or Scottish football club – in any division – buy Hysén? (Dear journos: please ask them. Any answer you get, even no answer – especially no answer – is illuminating.)

Will the tabloids – and the tabloidesque broadsheets – publish the standard falling-out-of-a-club-at-5am-shocka story, or the kiss-and-tell exclusive, and treat them identically to straight sportsmen?

And my favourite: what will happen when either man finds a boyfriend? This will be a story, make no mistake; while the men might wish for privacy the media is unlikely to allow it. Undoubtedly the Littlejohns and Widdecombes and Phillipses and Moirs and Greens will be temporarily defrosted from their 1970s lives to be intolerant for money, or to selectively quote a poor translation of an old book of short stories, or to spout the usual guff about soap’n’showers, marriage and paedophilia.

But this is news only while it is novel. Nobody remembers the second million-pound footballer.

So who’s next?


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A knock at the door

(April 2013 note: I used some of the ideas from the short story below in my novel Disunited, written as Anthony Camber.)  


“Come in.”

The door opened, wafting sparkles of dust between the slices of pale December light struggling through the blinds. He approached nervously, like a schoolboy summoned to the Head’s office. But I was the scruffy one, in a training kit smeared with the day’s mud, and he was wearing a designer suit. Too much bling.

“Sit down, son,” I said, tossing some unfinished paperwork onto the desk, with all the rest.

“Cheers boss.” He perched. I hate it when they perch, it means trouble. At his age he should be strutting and sprawling, I thought, flashing back to when I was eighteen. A different world. Back then I didn’t have his salary, that’s for sure. Or his talent.

“Well?” I was still the boss.

An awkward pause. Please, not a transfer request.

“I need to tell you something.” Like I said, he was perching.

“OK.” Keep it light. “Don’t worry, I’ve got Max Clifford on speed dial.”

That forced a weak smile, no more. He stared at his shoes and fiddled with a ring. Fine: the day’s schedule disintegrated in my head, which at least meant the paperwork could be forgotten for another few hours.

“It’s just…”

“Come on lad. What is it? A fight? Paps caught you in a nightclub? Got some girl up the wossname?”


“Drugs? Listen, we’ve all done a little–”

“It’s not drugs. I’m not stupid.”

“A sex tape, then.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong.” His eyes blazed, the passion the fans loved him for, the passion that sparked into genius on the pitch. And now I knew there was trouble.

I was leaning forward – being confrontational, as usual. Bad idea. I forced myself to sit back, the leather chair creaking and crackling into the silence.

Calmly, despite my rocketing heart rate: “So tell me why you’re here.” I breathed slowly, deliberately, remembering penalties scored and missed, mine and others.

He hesitated. Mouth open and shut. A decision. Eye contact. “I’m gay.”

Freeze-frame for a second, or five. “I’m not in the mood for jokes.”

Another second. “No joke.”

“Because if this is a wind-up, I’ll–” I was forward again, agitated, visions of hidden cameras, Noel Edmonds, stupid gold-plated laugh-at-the-idiot-footballer trophies.

“Boss. I promise, no wind-up. On my mother’s life.” A pause, another choice made. “I’m not ashamed of it. It’s not a phase. And I’m not gonna hide it.”

I made a noise, some kind of neigh, as the air escaped my lungs. They didn’t cover this at the coaching academy.

Deep breath. Big sigh. I took in the room, not very fancy as these things go: desk, sofa, certificates, all seen better days. And photos of those better days, of a younger, clear-eyed me – shimmying round a defender, that look on his face; the cup-winning team, all scarves and smiles. Jeez, shorts were short then.

And here and now: a boy, no more than that, albeit a hugely talented, highly paid, coiffed and tailored one, perching – still perching – before me. A dust mote flashed in the light and I followed it, carefree, immortal, until it vanished in the shadows. I felt suddenly very old.

“No,” I said.

“Boss, I’m not joking.” I was quite sure of it.

“I don’t care. I will not allow it.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“No. I can’t stop you. I can’t stop you drinking, smoking, clubbing, and all those other things lads your age do. But when it affects your performance, the team’s performance, I can drop you.”

“You wouldn’t drop me.” Standard teenage arrogance.

“Try me.” His next line was knee-jerk, obvious.

“Then I’ll quit.”

This wasn’t getting us anywhere. Time for a different approach.

“Listen, son. There are no gay footballers. There’s a reason for that.”

“I’ve read all about it. Justin Fashanu, he was gay. He played at the top level.”

“One player. One. Who was abused, transferred. Cloughy knew what he got up to, kicked him out. He ended up killing himself, you know that?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that!” He was angry now. I should have tried to calm it down, but…

“That’s just the way it is, kiddo. Get used to it. Get a girlfriend. Get on with your life, forget all this gay nonsense.” Stoking the fire. I regretted it instantly, expected a barrage of abuse in return.

Instead he just laughed, the bitter laugh of a future denied. My head throbbed. I rubbed my temples, filling time, as no words came.

Quietly, he broke the silence. “It’s the twenty-first century, man. I just want to live my life.”

“I know.”

“Gareth Thomas, the rugby guy. He came out, no problems.”

“There was a bit of trouble, but… I know. But rugby’s a different sport, a different crowd.”

“Football’s not so different.”

My turn to laugh bitterly. “You’ve never played at Millwall.”

He grinned. The tension evaporated. Sunshine striped across his jacket, contours of light over his face.

I stood and adjusted the blinds. “You realise the first black players had bananas thrown at them,” I said. “They still do sometimes, despite everything. You still hear monkey chants.”

“People are afraid of difference. But difference is nothing to be ashamed of. No reason to hide away. The more black footballers, the better it got. The more gay footballers, the better it will get.”

“But to be first – it’s bound to affect your game. And the rest of the team.”

He shrugged. “Someone has to be first. I’ll sort the team out. I can do the tabloids, the TV, talk to the fans, get them behind me.”

“It’s not our fans you should be worried about.”

“Sure. But if Viv Anderson could do it, and Brendan Batson, and Laurie Cunningham, and Cyrille Regis, and all the others, including Fashanu, I can do it.”

“They couldn’t hide being black.”

“Damn right. And they didn’t want to either. They weren’t ashamed of being black, and I’m not ashamed of being gay.”

I had to admire his determination, and he knew his footballing history. He was full of surprises, this boy. But he was so young. Could he deal with the abuse when it undoubtedly came? The barracking, the filth, even the death threats? He was so young.

“Why now?”

“You telling me there’s a good time?”

Fair point. “But in a couple of seasons, when you’re more mature…”

“Boss. I’ve read the bio. You were married at 21, kid at 22, and no saint before that. I don’t want to hide away, skulk around in the shadows, spend the best years of my life afraid of being recognised or, worse, not getting any. It was different for you.”

I had to agree.

“And…” he hesitated. “In four years, there’s Brazil. I want to be in the squad. And I want my boyfriend there too, if I have one. One of the WAGs.”

I laughed at that. Footballers are always footballers. But he had more.

“And then in Russia in ’18, I might be married. And captain.”

“Christ, you’re nothing if not ambitious.”

“How do you think I got here, fancy clothes, flash car? I’d never have kicked a ball if I didn’t believe I could do it.”

“So what about 2022? With your attitude you might still be in the team at thirty. But you can’t be gay in Qatar. It’s illegal. You heard Blatter, he says gays should refrain from…” I waved my hand, he knew what I meant.

A look, a defiant smile. “That’s why I’m doing this.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Blatter doesn’t matter. He’s an old man. Old thinking, old ways. We make the world we want to see. If I come out now, be the first, stand up and be counted, be successful, others will follow. They won’t be afraid. It’ll take a few years, but by ’22 there’ll be dozens of us – out, international players. Whether I’m playing or not, I’ll be in Qatar. With a husband, and kids maybe. And I won’t be the only one.”

“It might still be illegal.”

“What are they gonna do? Flog us all? Kick us out?”

I looked at him, the man-boy, the heart of the team, the fire of youth. He wasn’t perching any more. He was right, damn him. He was too young, he was naive, he was hopelessly, recklessly optimistic, but he was right. At some point you have to make a stand. At some point you have to do what you know is right, regardless of consequences.

“OK,” I said finally, slowly, a plan forming. “OK. I’ll talk to people. Max Clifford won’t like it, though.”

“He can get stuffed.”

“Just… don’t say anything yet. Let me arrange things, get the timing right. You – you tell whoever needs to know before it all gets out.”

A grunt. “My family, my mates, they’ve always known. They’re like, whatever.”

I should have expected that by now. “Good. Right. Clear off. Keep quiet. Get ready.”

“I’m ready. Cheers boss. I’m ready.” He stood, face in the light again, as it always was, as it always would be. We shook hands with a smile and he left, flashes of dust billowing again in the echo of the closing door.

I drank in the silence, the room, the discarded paperwork. The rollercoaster of life. Still time to jump off. I picked up the office phone, hesitating over the keypad. A deep breath; time for penalties. I dialled the number.

“Hi darling,” I said. “It’s time for me to come out.”

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The Gayaway

That was a… unique week. I was holidaying with gaychums John and Roger at the Barbados Apartments in Playa del Ingles in Gran Canaria, an area described variously as Spanish Brighton or Disneyland for Gays (though Disneyland is pretty gay already if you ask me). I returned light of head, light of wallet and lobsterish of hue, with a blue-edged soul flecked with volcanic sand and the fag lag of New York time on the Gran Canaria clock.

Our days enjoyed noon-ish starts, late lunches, a couple of hours of gay beach, silent contemplation/internet, dinner at ten, partying until late/early, and bed. We never left the bars before 2am, and were dirty rotten stop-outs until 5am more than once. According to my extensive records this was the greatest number of consecutive late nights + drink + dancing I have yet experienced. And I enjoyed it. The novelty played a part I’m sure; the sun and heat too. Plus scenery of both landscape and portrait aspects.

The gay beach, to a first approximation, consisted of older, larger, leather-skinned Germans working on their all-overs, and younger, lightly bronzed gym residents with stomachs you could bounce 5ps on. Coming a distant third were the Persil-white Brits and Irish, embracing the empinkening with relish, beer and insufficient sunscreen. Poor John overdid it that first day and a shoulder blistered up. Memo: ice, not aftersun.

The fastest path to the gay beach crossed a stunning expanse of sand dunes. These have a capital-R-Reputation, of which we saw some evidence from a safe distance. A few weeks before the holiday I had a dream in which I said the words “meandering through the sand dunes of Sodom.” It made me wake up laughing. It also led our friend Ali to create a T-shirt for the holiday, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t wear lest it be misconstrued. I might bring it out for special occasions.

The central gay area in Playa del Ingles is the Yumbo. Drab, sun-bleached tat-n-caff shopping centre by day, it transforms into gay bars, clubs and… other establishments after dark. A bizarre juxtaposition of trashy drag acts, presentably seedy leather-clad dancers, decidedly sleazy entrances into dens of unknown sordidness, and families with young kids wandering about at midnight. Funny lot these continentals.

We favoured La Leche, a light, open, breezy bar with milk-based decor, yer standard pop toons and the occasional live act. We also haunted clubs like Mykonos and Mantrix (less seedy than it sounds). We saw many of the same faces day after day wherever we went – a quintet of Dutch guys, including it seems the Milky Bar Kid himself, seemed to stalk our every move.

We didn’t dare visit Bunker, Gran Canaria’s self-proclaimed sleaziest establishment. The posters boasted/warned “anything goes”. I imagined a gruff Yorkshire-born manager running the place, slouched at the bar surrounded by gin and depravity with some form of jazz cigarette dangling limply from his lips, casting a lazy botoxed eye over the writhing dancers and occasionally crying out “Maureen! Maureen! Clean up in suckateria three!” to a long-suffering post-op assistant. There is, you might not like to know, a web site; it is unlikely to be safe for your workplace.

Our hotel was pleasant enough. Stamped gay-friendly on Thomson’s web site to ward off the loons, it was nevertheless virtually gay-empty on our holiday. A few twinks here, an ambiguous twosome there. Mostly Spanish families with holiday apartments decorated by blindfolded dustmen and Blue Peter competition winners and, oddly, a great number of straight Irish teenagers permanently on the cusp of being ejected by management for booze-related noisiness. One of them, in a conspiratorial whisper, asked me what I thought our swimming pool resembled. He agreed.

We found, to our surprise, a couple of decent restaurants. Not just resort-decent, but decent-decent. La Liguria just opposite our hotel was a fine Italian with freshly made pasta and other delights. Mundo, down the road, was oddly decorated but busy and equally excellent: when the waiter/proprietor recommends you don’t order something on the menu you know you’ll eat well.

I’m almost shocked to say I think I’ll return to the area again. A different time of year, though – gay high season, October to March – and it’d be fun to stay in an exclusively gay hotel if only for the lols. I might need a little recovery time first, though. And a flat stomach.


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Pride and no prejudice

I’ve said it many times: the key to acceptance is visibility. Casual racism stopped being acceptable in polite society – bar over a family Christmas dinner, all evidence indicates – when people made ‘openly black’ friends and realised that the tabloid myths were just that. So it is with queers, faggots and poofs, FTMs and MTFs, puppies and masters, bears, cubs, otters, twinks, bis, bois, ladyboys, gym bunnies, muscle marys and even those of a lesbianic disposition. We are all god’s children, for very small values of god.

Nowhere are these disparate flavours of humanity more visible than at Pride, which I attended for the first time at the weekend. I’d always thought of Pride as a festival of tack, a freak show, Invasion of the Mansnatchers. And, of course, it is: but, it turns out, gloriously, visibly so.

I attended Pride not as a spectator but as a participant, invited (with gaychums John, Roger and Vitaliy) by friends Rob and Jimmy to march, camera in hand, with the group Families Together London. No official role, just beefing up the numbers: the group helps parents, family and friends of LGBT people through what is often a confusing and scary time, and unsurprisingly many feel unable to join in with such events.

The parade route took us from Baker Street along Oxford Street and Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, down to Pall Mall and across to Trafalgar Square, ending up in Whitehall. It’s a walk I won’t soon forget: through a long, snaking tunnel of spectators three, four or more deep, smiling, cheering, taking photos. Even cynical old Avaragado found it uplifting, exhilarating even, and more than a little moving. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before.

Many highlights: the sheer number of gay couples in the crowd; the man who watched the parade from inside a phone box; the drag queen who danced the entire route near us and constantly posed for photos; the cheers; the surprising appearance of Peter Tatchell, banner in hand, standing by himself near the end of the parade route; and seeing people I knew in the crowd.

There were protestors, of course: some purple-faced proselytisers ranting from a safe, police-enforced distance. And a curious gentleman dressed in various manifestations of the red and white cross of St George – wig, cape, make-up, the works – who marched the route just behind us but seemed to be an interloper. Not sure what he was up to but his cape was covered in images of England footballers. He argued at one point with a few other marchers but was otherwise harmless and silent. Whatever: these things were insignificant, lost in the literal noise of celebration.

We marched for two hours or so; it was only at the end, as we left the crowds and descended back to Earth and reality, that my smile faded and my feet began lazily to ache.

The Pride party continued: Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square were both fudge-packed. Soho extended and embraced the entire West End. I suspect Grindr imploded under the load – as I can’t think of any other reason I received no messages.

It’s easy and simplistic to extrapolate from London at Pride to the rest of the world, or even to the rest of the country. During and after the march we were visible and accepted, therefore everyone is accepted everywhere. Not true. Some countries still suppress Pride marches. Some countries still imprison, beat, torture and kill gay people. There are still places in the UK where it’s not safe to be gay; still bigoted, powerful people who preach hate.

That’s what Pride is for. That’s what makes the sheer number of happy, cheering, accepting people in the crowd – straight and gay – so memorable, and so moving. Because it shows how far we’ve come, and reminds us how far we still have to go.

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A Single Lady

Two contrasting films. One made in 21 days, set in the 1960s; one costing upwards of $200m, set down a rabbit hole. One with a red queen, one with a dead queen. Oh shush you, I’m allowed to say that, it’s here on the membership card in black and glitter.

A Single Man shows one day in the 1962 life of George, a British professor of English at Random College, CA. A closet puddle-jumper, George lost his verygoodfriend Jim in a car crash a few months before. We see him coping, or not, intercut with occasional flashbacks to scenes with Jim.

I predicted in January that Colin Firth would win an Oscar for his portrayal of George. I’m doubtful now since the Academy went gay in this category last year via the medium of Sean Penn. Firth’s still in with a shot; we’ll find out in the next few hours. If he wins, I anticipate headlines punning ‘Firth’ with ‘first’. ‘Firth Among Equals’ perhaps.

Nicholas Hoult, child in About A Boy, yob in Skins, greek in the upcoming Clash of the Titans remake, plays Young Totty Kenny, a student with ambiguous desires. Hoult spouts what seems to my ears a pretty decent accent. Then again I guess Americans loved Dick van Dyke’s, so what do I know?

A few critics have huffed about excessive artiness in what is haberdashergay Tom Ford’s directorial, screenwriting and producing debut. Well, yes, it’s true there’s no Bruce Willis in a grimy vest leaping between exploding buildings, no caped spandex-encased do-gooder righting wrongs with a flick of his jaw. This is a good thing. The camera lingers a little, there are periods of calm. There is what I might haughtily call a conceit: at certain times Ford nudges the colour saturation up to 11. I generously forgive him this; overall it’s an impressive achievement. Production designers nicked from TV’s Mad Men portray that early sixties wood’n’nukes feel convincingly enough.

Artiness aside there is a story to tell, a touching one of loss and heartbreak. Sexuality is pleasingly subdued to a smidge above irrelevance. Not that it’s absent: it’s central, but in the way that heterosexuality is central to a million romcom yawnfests. Heteros won’t be tainted with gay by watching it.

I finished reading the original Christopher Isherwood novel the night before seeing the film. There are one or two noticeable differences plotwise; tweedy litnerds might be all pipes a-quiver at this. The changes improve the story as a film: shockingly, books aren’t films. I enjoyed and recommend both.

Avaragado’s rating: one Twinkie bar.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is, uh, a slightly different kettle of pigs. It contains in some venues at least one extra dimension and an audience of Ronnie Corbett lookalikes. Stars include the Burton Regulars and – marginally boggling – Barbara Windsor as the dormouse. Shame Sid James is dead, he could have played the Mad Hatter. Hattie Jacques as the Red Queen. Kenneth Williams as the Knave. Bernard Bresslaw as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Charles Hawtrey as the White Rabbit. Anyway.

As well as the usual cast, all the expected characters are present with full, faithful, bonkers Burton polish. Depp is as Depp does. The stand-out for me is the Cheshire Cat, Stephen Fry purring his way lugubriously through the film. As the Red Queen Helena Bonham Carter isn’t entirely unadjacent to Blackadder II‘s Queenie; a shame that milord Fry doesn’t get to purr a Melchettesque “Majesty”.

The visuals are stunning. From the Red Queen’s bulbous head to interaction between the real and the CGI, there’s barely a join visible. A couple of shots involving the Knave have a mildly fishy aroma, and Matt Lucas’s dual Tweedles sometimes veer away from skin towards plastic; otherwise it’s all entirely believable. CGI people are notoriously tricky thanks to the unique way our brains are funded: CGI mice can prance about with waistcoats and we lap it up; but one dodgy movement from a CGI human and we’re swooping into uncanny valley with klaxons blaring. The flying spaghetti monster gave us this talent so we could spot aliens. IT IS MY FAITH AMEN.

As a story it’s fine. Unlike A Single Man this is no faithful adaptation of the original, more a weird combination of sequel and re-imagining. A few climactic elements don’t feel entirely right; a little jarring, too mainstream perhaps given the surreality of most of the film. Not ruinous, and I’m sure perfectly acceptable for the main target audience.

Worth seeing just to be dazzled by the production.

Avaragado’s rating: cake.

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