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David C Dawson's blog

Fifty…

Musings, Some things Posted on Tue, December 10, 2019 15:16:42

I threw the paint tins into the back of the van. Why the hell am I doing this, I asked myself. I’m a final year university student studying literature, with a major in dangling modifiers.

The answer was simple. My flatmate selfishly contracted the bora virus two days ago. He’d got this painting job lined up, and now he couldn’t do it. Instead, he was laid up in bed waiting for a reboot.

What the hell, I needed the money. And anyway, it sounded like an easy gig. Repainting the lower hallway in one of the mansions owned by multi-millionairess Chrissy Grey.

I jumped into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and put the pedal to the metal, in the first of many clichés.

The paint tins clattered around in the back, as the van careered down the country lanes towards Chrissy Grey’s luxury mansion, hidden within a copse of hard wood trees, outside the village of Little Whipping.

I pushed the buzzer on the intercom outside the heavy wrought iron gates, fashioned into the shape of giant manacles. There was a crackle on the loudspeaker.

“Who is it?” asked a female voice.

“My name’s Bondage,” I replied. “Jimmy Bondage. I’ve come to do your back passage.”

There was a pause. “What a relief,” purred the voice. “You’d better come in. I’ll have to meet you myself. I’d send my handyman, but he’s a little tied up at the moment.”

The wrought iron manacles slowly swung open. I jumped back into the van and drove up the long, winding gravel drive leading to the main entrance of the elegant, tastefully designed, neo-Georgian, overly-adjectived stately mansion, belonging to the country’s most reclusive heiress to a rubber goods fortune.

I strode up the stone steps to the entrance doors two at a time. As I reached up to knock on the solid oak front door with its heavy black door furniture, a voice shouted from a window above me.

“Don’t touch my knockers. They’re reserved for special guests only. I want you round the back. And wipe your feet. I don’t want any skid marks around my back entrance.”

I reversed the van, followed the drive around to the rear of the mansion, and parked by a sign reading “rough trade only”. Before I’d even let go of my gear knob a door opened, and multi-millionairess Chrissy Grey appeared before me.

“You’re not who I was expecting.” She eyed me dismissively. The sun glinted off her PVC nurses uniform. I’d never realised she was an RCN.

“Willy can’t get up at the moment,” I said. “He’s got the bora virus, and he’s gone all limp. He asked me to see to you.”

“Did he really?” Chrissy Grey raised an already arched eyebrow. “I’m sure he’s going to miss getting his CBT this week.”

“You’re a therapist?” I asked. If she provided cognitive behavioural therapy, that might explain the uniform.

“Different kind of CBT, darling.” Her voice broke into a throaty chuckle. “CBT in Willy’s case means cock and ball treatment.” She smiled at the obviously puzzled expression on my face. “You didn’t know your Willy was into BDSM?”

“He’s not my Willy,” I said quickly. I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea. “We just share a house.”

Chrissy Grey smiled. “Whatever you want to believe.” She stepped towards me. The PVC of her uniform crackled seductively as she walked. “Maybe you’d like to take his place? The dungeon’s all prepared.”

I stepped back hurriedly. “I’ve just come to sort out the broken plaster and slap on some primer. I’ve got everything in the back of the van. If you’d just show me the way to your crack, I’ll get filling.”

She looked disappointed. “Well, if you’re sure. Did he give you the paint charts as well?”

I shook my head. “He just said I had to smooth down your surfaces, and make sure my brush strokes were even.”

“That’s annoying. I need to finalise the colour.”

I went round to the back of the van, and opened the doors.

“What colour are you having it?” I asked, gathering up the tins of primer.

“I thought I’d go for my namesake. Grey.”

“Well that should be easy, then.” I picked up a tin in each hand, and walked over to her. “You don’t need a paint chart to choose that.”

Chrissy Grey looked horrified. “Oh, but my dear. There are at least fifty shades of grey.”



Love, Law and Liberty

Musings Posted on Tue, October 29, 2019 17:42:04
British Library
The British Library, London

If you want to know how far we’ve come in the fifty plus years since homosexuality was partially decriminalised in Britain, pop along to the British Library in Central London. They’ve got a fascinating collection of exhibits.

If you were alive in 1967, chances are you’d never believe the day would come when a glossy magazine would feature a same sex family positively on its front cover. Or the heir to the throne giving an in-depth interview to a gay magazine. This is all carefully documented in artefacts available in the British Library.

In the UK, the history of legalised homophobia starts in 1533, when the Buggery Act was passed during the reign of Henry VIII. The law was reinforced in Victorian England, and oppression continued throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

For example, you can see an original copy of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. It created a much more oppressive law against homosexuality, and brought about the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.

Lippincott’s Magazine published The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s only novel, July 1890 (c) British Library Board
Lippincott’s Magazine July 1890 (c) British Library Board



There’s a great deal of fascinating Wildean archive in the British Library, including a copy of Lippincott’s Magazine. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s only novel, was first published in the magazine.

The book was slammed by critics of the time as “effeminate and contaminating”. Wilde rewrote it to play down the homoerotic content.

There are some fascinating facts to unearth in this wonderful library. For example, did you know Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea was originally written with two gay men as the protagonists? Rattigan based their story in part on his secret relationship with the actor Kenny Morgan.

There’s a copy of Virginia Woolf’s transgender classic Orlando, about a male poet who becomes a woman and lives for centuries meeting key figures of English literary history. Alongside it is an interview with Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West talking about the inspiration for the book.

Original poster for Pits and Perverts fund raiser concert


Until I revisited recently, I’d forgotten the British Library not only has a vast collection of books and documents, but also a comprehensive audio archive.

I spent a wonderfully nostalgic time listening to Julian and Sandy, AKA Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, from the BBC radio show Round the Horne. At a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain, they regularly brought the secret gay language Polari to a weekly listening audience of up to fifteen million.

Then there’s a recording of the late Mark Ashton, one of the founders of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, portrayed in the 2014 film Pride. Or you can listen to a recording from 1932 of Noel Coward singing Mad About the Boy.

Spend a day here, and learn about the bravery of the campaigners whose efforts led to the increasing sexual equality we enjoy today.



How I Came Out

Musings Posted on Wed, October 23, 2019 22:28:27

In summer 2016, I stood on the stage of the Cadogan Hall in London and gave a little speech. It was during a performance by The London Gay Men’s Chorus. It was an emotional moment for me, because my son was in the audience. When you read the text, you’ll see why that’s significant.

Here it is.

“Hello, my name’s David Dawson and I’ve been with the chorus for just over four years, and I sing Bass. I’ve been asked to tell you why I’m here.

It’s very simple, my mum sent me. You see I came out rather late in life – when I was aged 52. But when you meet a man and you fall head over heels in love with him – you’ve got to tell everyone.

And you’ve got to tell your mum.

Who was eighty-eight at the time. So when I told her, there was some initial shock. But, after she met him they got on well. All was fine.

Actually, one day, she and I were sat on the sofa together, and she suddenly says, “So now you’re gay David, I suppose you’re going to join that London Gay Men’s Chorus?”

I have to confess, at the time I’d never heard of the Chorus.

So she says, “Well, you like singing, and you’ve always sung in choirs. And they were on the TV the other night singing with Dolly Parton and they seemed like lovely boys. So why don’t you join them?”

So I did. And they’ve been my lifeline over these past years. And I can confirm, they are lovely boys – all of them.

Actually, before telling my mum, there was someone I had to tell first.

My son.

He’d just started at University. So, I went off to tell him in person.

And I was terrified.

All I had to say were three small words: “I am gay”.

But I couldn’t. Actually, the conversation went something like this:

“I’ve met someone. And it’s a man.”

He looks at me. And says, “You mean, you’re gay?”

And, I still couldn’t say those three small words, so I sort of nodded.

He pauses, and says: “Do you love him?”

And I said: “Yes.”

So he says, “That’s OK then.”

And it was all fine.

Just before I was leaving, he turns to me and says:

“Love you dad.”

Three small words. They mean so much.”



Archibald

Musings Posted on Thu, July 25, 2019 09:16:57

He’s battered and frayed, he’s lost an eye and some of his stuffing is beginning to leak out.

I’ve put him on the shelf by the TV, where I can always see him when I sit here. His one button eye, squinting at me.

John said he was the first toy he ever had when he was a baby. But I can’t believe that. I mean, he’s got button eyes that are wired in. You don’t give that to a baby. It’s not safe.

It doesn’t matter. John gave him to me, that first Christmas when we moved in here, five years ago. “A bear for a bear,” he said. His most treasured possession, and he gave him to me. John said his sister had called him Archibald Bear, so that’s always been his name.

Marion, John’s sister, is the only one from his family who’s ever kept in touch. She came to visit us soon after we moved to LA. John’s mom and dad never did. They didn’t want to meet me. He used to go visit them once a year, alone, usually just before Thanksgiving. They live up in Oregon.

Marion was here, the night John was shot. There was a knock at the door. I was in the bathroom and John was out, so Marion answered it.

I heard men’s voices. Then I heard her kind of moan, like an almost animal cry. When I came into the living room, there were two cops there. They’d just told her about the shooting. Marion was all hunched up on the couch, just hugging herself and rocking.

When we got to the hospital, the medics said they were doing everything they could. But he died. John died at 8:23pm on Thursday the 10th June.

The hospital said it wasn’t possible for me to see his body, as I wasn’t related. I said I’d been his boyfriend for nearly six years. But they said that didn’t count. They needed the permission of his parents.

His mom and dad arrived the next day. Marion went to meet them at LA X, and they took a cab straight to the hospital. They didn’t let me see his body.

Marion rang me to say his mom was coming to the apartment to collect all John’s things and take them back home. I said we shared everything. We were practically married for chrissake.

John’s mom didn’t fight about it. She said she just wanted some pictures, a few of his clothes and John’s old baseball stuff, from college days. I hid Archibald, so I got to keep him.

They wouldn’t let me go to the funeral. Jeez, they wouldn’t even tell me when it was. Marion called to say it was happening, but she said it was probably best I didn’t go. John’s dad was looking to cut up real rough and was talking about getting a court order to exclude me. John used to tell me his dad is devout Presbyterian and uses words like abomination and crap like that.

Marion had a big row with them about the funeral. She’s moved out to Seattle now and won’t talk to any of her family. When you think about it, she’s not only lost her kid brother, but the whole lot of them. She’s coming down to stay in a few weeks. I think I’ll give her Archibald.



Father Christmas gets the flu

Musings Posted on Fri, December 01, 2017 12:56:01

Father Christmas had the flu.

He felt terrible.

His big, shiny nose was blocked. His
body ached, and he felt both hot and cold, all at the same time.

He lay in his bed at Lapland House, with
a thermometer under his tongue. Doctor Bilzi stood beside the bed, and held
Father Christmas’s wrist. He tutted, shook his head, and removed the
thermometer from Father Christmas’s mouth. He examined the thermometer, and
tutted again.

“You mustn’t move from here, Father
Christmas,” he said. “You’ve got a very high temperature, and your body needs
lots of rest.”

Father Christmas groaned.

“But it’s the twenty-second of
December,” he said. “ In two days time I have to fly around the world and give
toys to all the children.”

Doctor Bilzi shook his head.

“You won’t be well enough to do that,”
he said. “You’ll just have to cancel Christmas this year.”

Father Christmas sat up in bed. He was
very angry.

“That’s impossible,” he cried. He held
his hand up to his head, groaned, and slumped back onto the pillow.

“Oh, I feel terrible.” He closed his
eyes. “What am I to do?”

That night, Father Christmas could not
sleep. He tossed and turned as he fretted about what to do. Just after three
o’clock in the morning, he sat bolt upright in bed.

“That’s it,” he said out loud. “That’s
what I’ll do.”

He lay back on the pillow, and slept
soundly until morning.

News that Father Christmas was ill
spread quickly through the Lapland toy factory. It was next door to Lapland
House, and on the next morning a great crowd gathered outside the house,
keeping watch in silence.

Hundreds of elves who worked in the
factory, grooms who worked in the reindeer stables, and packers who worked in
parcel despatch stood waiting for news.

“Perhaps we can delay Christmas until
he’s better,” whispered the ribbon and wrapping supervisor, a tall elf with a
green pointed hat topped with a white pompom. “My team needs a couple of extra
days to get everything finished.”

“But think of the scandal if we do,”
said the groom standing next to him. “Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer will
be so unpopular if the children have to wait for their toys. They must be delivered
by Christmas morning.”

“Shh,” said a soft toy stuffer behind
them. “Look. He’s coming out on to the balcony.”

The crowd looked up as two heavy wooden
doors on the first floor of Lapland House opened. Father Christmas walked
slowly onto the balcony. He was wrapped in two large white duvets, and he had a
big red hat on his head. He shuffled forward, and grasped the rail of the
balcony with his plump red hands.

Father Christmas started to speak, but
no one in the crowd could hear him. His voice was very weak, and he was too far
away.

There was a commotion behind him, and an
elf in a bright yellow suit scurried out onto the balcony. He carried a chair
in one hand, and a large plastic megaphone in the other.

He set the chair down next to Father
Christmas, climbed on to it, and held the megaphone in front of Father
Christmas’s mouth.

“My friends.” Father Christmas’s voice
boomed across the courtyard in front of Lapland House. Now, everybody could
hear him.

“As you probably know,” he continued. “I
have the flu. I feel terrible. And Doctor Bilzi has told me I must stay in bed.
But tomorrow night, I should fly around the world to deliver presents to all
the children.”

Father Christmas paused, and let out a
very loud sneeze. Everybody in the courtyard covered their ears, as the sound bounced
off the walls.

“Doctor Bilzi has told me I must cancel
Christmas this year. And that’s what I’ve decided to do.”

A puff of frozen breath rose above the
heads of the crowd, as all the elves in the courtyard gasped. The noise of
excited chatter grew louder and louder. Father Christmas held up his hands for
silence.

“Christmas has gone wrong,” he
continued. “It sends the wrong message to children. It brainwashes them to
become part of the capitalist consumer society. It fuels greed and envy. We all
know that Marx’s dialectical materialism tells us that any attempt to reconcile materialism with
idealism must result in confusion and inconsistency.”

He gestured around the courtyard.

“And that’s what we’ve all done. Even
though we meant well.”

Father Christmas paused to sneeze again,
loudly.

“What’s to become of us?” cried a voice
from the crowd.

“My friends,” Father Christmas held out
his arms in supplication to the crowd. “Don’t worry. I have a new plan. We’ll
start again. I’ll look after you all. Christmas must send a message of
generosity. From today, all children will make presents for each other. We’ll
become the distribution house for their gifts. Every child can give a gift.
Even if it’s the gift of love.”

He shivered, and pulled the duvets
tighter around him.

“And the first thing we’ll do is move
away from Lapland. I’m not spending another winter in this cold and ice.”

“But where will we go?” asked the elf
holding the megaphone.

“We’ll go to South America,” replied
Father Christmas. “It’s much warmer there. And I’ll set up the children’s gifts
exchange there. In the Amazon.”



This is how far we’ve come

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Fri, May 26, 2017 17:34:48

This Is How Far We’ve Come
I’m on tour with the London Gay Men’s Chorus in America. We’ve been in New York. Now we’re in Chicago.

We sang at an elementary school in Chicago today. Two shows.
First to the lower school, then the upper school. With a workshop session in
the middle with the school choir, including choreography.

This is when the London Gay Men’s Chorus is at its most
powerful.

Imagine a gay choir singing in a school twenty years ago?
Probably impossible.

The Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School is an American
public school (state funded) in the North Center neighbourhood of Chicago. It
has around eleven hundred students, ranging from pre-school to Eighth Grade. It celebrates its hundredth birthday this
year.

As soon as we walked into the school on a bright sunny
morning, you could sense it was a happy place. There was clear respect between
students and teachers.

We performed numbers ranging from Sam Cook’s A Change is Going to Come to I
Feel Pretty
from West Side Story and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Keep it Gay. We opened with I
Sing the Body Electric
, based on Walt Whitman’s beautiful poem. I could see
one of the teachers in the audience mouthing all the words as we sang.

As the lower school filed out after our first performance,
one of the children shouted out “Good job!”

Our chairman is a former student of the school. He made a
powerful speech about being different. There was a roar of applause from the
students as he concluded: “it’s OK to be different”.

I spoke to the music teacher afterwards.

“Did any parents request that their children not attend the
performance today?” I asked naïvely.

“No!” she responded, almost shocked by my question.
“We have a couple of kids with same sex parents here,” she went on. “There
are several gay or lesbian teachers in the school. We’ve come a long way.”

Too right we’ve come a long way. This was the highlight of our tour for me.



A New York Story – Con or Charm?

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Tue, May 23, 2017 17:36:45

A New York Story – Con or Charm?

I got picked up last night, and we went on a date.

Her name is Nicki. She’s seventy-eight years old and she
started chatting me up while we sat waiting in the lobby of the New World
Stages, off Broadway.

But have I been charmed, or conned by a scheming person?

I found Nicki very charming. She said I was charming, which
is charming of her to say. I live near Oxford, and she said she’d
researched at the Pitt Rivers Museum there many years ago. She also knew Cambridge, having
lived in nearby Grantchester with her three young sons in the early seventies.

Her manner was that of a fast-talking, Jewish New Yorker.
But she was born and raised in India. She came to New York when she was ten.

We sat talking for half an hour. About Middle Eastern
culture, on which she’s very knowledgeable. We debated the use of language,
about which she’s very opinionated. As am I.

She’s a fanatical theatre fan. She told me she sees eleven
shows per week. Over five hundred a year. I secretly wondered if that was
really true, or if she was exaggerating.

Then it was time for us to see our respective plays. She was
going to see The Wall and I saw Church and State.

“Why don’t we meet up after, and swap notes?” she asked. “I
know this place where we can get fish tacos for a dollar.”

Sounded interesting, so I agreed.

After the theatre, I got us a taxi and we went down to
Coopers on 8th Avenue for one-dollar fish tacos and beer. We talked
non-stop. I was fascinated by her life. She was interested in mine.

So why should I even think I was conned?

This morning, I went for breakfast in a deli on the corner
of 8th and seventeenth. As I ate my eggs on wheat toast, I Googled Nicki
Cochrane. And up popped her face in an article from last year, with the headline “members of
New York’s theatre community detest her”.

Why?

The article confirmed all she had told me the night before.
That she’s originally from India. That she sees eleven shows a week.

But she’s made
some enemies. Here’s the article, and decide for yourself if she’s a charmer,
or a con artist:

http://observer.com/2016/02/kickstarter-funded-movie-about-theater-loving-woman-doesnt-tell-whole-story/

What do I think?

I’m meeting Nicki at the theatre again this afternoon. She’s one of the most delightful people I’ve met in years.



Day 3 – Why Pride Marches?

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Sat, May 20, 2017 13:33:45

Day 3 – Why Pride Marches?
I’m on tour with the London Gay Men’s Chorus in New York,
getting ready for a joint concert with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus this
Saturday.

We’ve been to the Stonewall National Monument, close to the
Stonewall Inn. This was the site of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969, a
turning point in America’s fight for LGBT rights.

When I was growing up, the only significant event in the
summer of 1969 was the first landing on the moon. I was eleven years old, and I
remember watching the contrasty, black and white pictures on our ageing
oak-cased television set.

I knew nothing about the police raid on a sanctuary for gay
men in New York’s Greenwich Village. Police raids on gay bars were frequent in
New York at the time, but the bar owners usually received a police tip-off
before the raid.

On the night of 28 June at the Stonewall Inn, there was no
police tip-off.

And the raid did not go as planned.

Instead of meekly lining up against a wall and handing over
their IDs, patrons refused to cooperate. A crowd gathered outside.

It got angry.

The crowd swelled to five or six hundred, vastly outnumbering
the police.

Ten police officers barricaded themselves inside the
Stonewall Inn for safety.

The crowd chanted, “We shall overcome”. They attacked the
police wagons, and it led to several days of riots in Greenwich Village.

It also triggered a change around the world in the approach
to the campaign for gay rights.

One year later, the first gay Pride march in Greenwich
Village, marked the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. There were also
marches in Chicago and Los Angeles.

These days, people often ask, why bother with Pride marches
any more?

Then you see pictures of gay men rounded up in Chechnya and
forced into concentration camps. You see pictures of gay men thrown from the
roofs of multi-storey car parks in Syria.

Or two gay men in West London earlier this year, savagely
beaten as they slept on their train back home.

That’s why we still have Pride marches.



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