I'm in my local fancy sandwich & cake shop, asking Tracey if she made the brownies she promised yesterday. Nope. I look along the counter. The only chocolate I can see is one fairy cake on a plate with a dozen pink ones around it. The pink ones are covered in glitter. I say, "Well, it seems there's one cake here with my name on it!" Tracey hesitates and asks "So which one would that be, then?”
Back in the late 80s, I used to go to a Gay Youth Group in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The meetings were a bit desultory, a bunch of 18-year-olds waiting for an excuse to just go down to the pubs together, but we were young and benefitted from each other's support. "Screwdo" was something I originally developed as an activity for the group, though I ended up only taking around to a couple of friends' houses rather than to a meeting. It is, of course, a version of Cluedo, only here the aim of the game is to work out who did what to whom, with what, and where.
This was back in the days before the sort of home printing we take for granted now, so I made it all from coloured card, clear sticky plastic, Letraset (remember Letraset?), FIMO plasticine and a mixture of perverse ingenuity and touching innocence. The now ubiquitous rainbow flag is absent here, as the only contemporary Gay symbols were the pink (or black) triangle and the "lambda" sign.
When I moved back home for a year and hung the board on my bedroom wall, my Mum made sure my curtains were left closed all the time "in case the Window Cleaner sees it." I made my Mama SO proud...
The Screwdo characters were (from left to right): "Master Bates", "Magenta", "Cuddles", "The Clone", "Walter Sports" and "Roger Rent". Young LGBT people just won't understand how pervasive "clone" culture was back then - I would go into some pubs and EVERYONE looked like Freddy Mercury.
I made all the cards for the game from telephone cards I found discarded in phone boxes. These images were all cut from either postcards or catalogues or covers of "Gay Times". The picture for 'Magenta' is an early shot of "Lily Savage" before Paul O'Grady became nationally famous. Here, she was a model posing next to hunks in underwear in a fetish catalogue.
These were the toys I made for the game. I was so new to the Gay world that I hadn't actually ever seen a dildo, so I got a lot of teasing about that one. I was pleased with my first stab at making the handcuffs - I used ring pulls from cans of Coke, but soon found a better pair elsewhere. I was very pleased to find a pink die for the game. Sometimes everything just comes together.
The remaining cards for the game. As with the board, these were made from layers of coloured paper and card and photocopied acetate (which I would colour on the reverse side). I innovated a write-on/wipe-off "sex menu" card, too. I don't know if the manufacturers of Cluedo ever thought of THAT.
The friends I showed "Screwdo" used to say that I should market it, but times were very different then and I knew that there would be few outlets and inevitable prosecution for copyright. In those days you would be arrested for holding hands with another guy in the street, never mind actually kissing him, and I was myself breaking the law having sex under the age of 21. "Screwdo" has remained in an old art folder for over 20 years until now.
I was telling some new friends about "Screwdo" on Sunday, and they suggested that the original game could be adapted into a bi-sexual free-for-all, with the Reverend Green tying up Professor Plum with the Rope, etc. I think that counts as progress.
"Incomplete": this was my first piece in my jigsaw series, and it's one which has continued to evolve as a concept. I first conceived it simply as a puzzle with a missing piece, but when I came to make it I decided to add a piece that didn't fit (to hammer my message home - subtlety sometimes eludes me). Looking at it over the years I sometimes thought that it represented me as an incomplete puzzle that would never be solved. At other times, I saw myself as the little red piece that didn't fit into wider society. Recently, I've begun to see a figure walking along with a tiny red body and an enormous round head, with eyes downcast. Whatever the message, this piece has special significance for me.
"Crowd": this one came to me when I was happily partnered - notice how it's much more cheery? It has a patchwork look and can be a little mesmerising to look at. When I made it, though, I thought the message of the piece was one of confusion and being lost in a crowd. There's a single piece lost in the crowd that isn't immediately apparent.
It was while making this jigsaw that I came to see pieces shaped this way as a "little man". This one became my representative in this piece - little Greg lost and overlooked in a big joyful crowd, but shining out, occasionally, if the light caught the artwork from the right angle.
My next piece went wrong (I don't recall my intention), but I salvaged enough of it to make this. In this one there is someone else out there for me, which might seem more hopeful, but my feeling is that we are held apart and cannot ever come together. Can you tell that my relationship was over by now?
Now we come to my more recent work. This one was conceived as a response to "Crowd", and faces it on the opposite wall of my kitchen. I'm calling it "Mod" for now, because the black and white chequered look makes me think of the Mods on their scooters, and also because I think this looks a little like a Bridget Riley and therefore is my "modern art" piece.
I've picked out the same little man as in "Crowd", in order to send the viewer back to the earlier work to spot him. Of course, it also conveys the same idea of "not fitting in".
I was also looking to make a companion piece to "Incomplete" and couldn't come up with a concept until a friend suggested a complete version. I resisted the idea for a long time, thinking that it didn't feel like that would represent my inner state. I had this jigsaw on my dining table for months while I dithered over different ideas, but I slowly came to terms with this simple design. I've decided to acknowledge the Japanese influence to my work here and call this one "Zen". I really like it - it has a meditative quality and I often stop by it on my landing and just stare into the black pool of this piece.
Finally, for now, comes my most recent work. I can't think of a more fitting name than "Despair" for this one at the moment, but that might evolve as I come to terms with it. Most of the time I enjoy my solitude, but I can't pretend it doesn't feel like this sometimes. In this piece there is no-one out there for me - I'm all alone in the dark.
I had the bath running and I was kneeling on the end of my bed, leaning over my laptop, sunk in Facebook. As we all know, time dilates on the internet and I kept meaning to check on the bath. Eventually, I heard something that sounded ominously like water hitting the floor. It was at this point that I realised that I'd been kneeling too long and I had no sensation in my feet. They were more than numb, my ankles were floppy. I urgently needed to get to the bathroom but I couldn't balance, never mind walk or run (like I needed to right now).
And so I crawled whimpering down the hallway, pulled myself grimly across the hot puddle, shut off the water and lay there hanging from the tap, panting.
Who needs action movies when you can experience terror, panic and pain in your own home?
A group of us, post-40 and bearded, stand in the dark yard to the side of the pub.
On the other side of a waist-high fence, a long queue has formed for a popular gay disco night next door. Everyone in the queue is oh-so-carefully coiffed and styled just-so. They look elfin and delicate and no-one is over 22.
Not for the first time I think of H.G.Wells' "Time Machine". Here before me are the Eloi.
I've always wanted to live a VERY long life, preferably long enough to see out the end of this Solar System, to travel the galaxy in my own spaceship, to never stop learning and making connections.
I'd still be pissed-off if you told me for certain I wasn't going to get this wish.
I'm such a material boy, though...
Seeing this new concept gravestone from Ivanka, a Hungarian design couple, has helped me come to terms with my death. In fact, I'm now going to be pissed-off that I won't get to see my VERY cool grave slowly weather and gather moss.
Hmm... suddenly that shallow water seems a very apt memorial for me.
After some years away, work brought me back to the city.
For all my mixed emotions on returning, my eyes gorged themselves on the cityscape.
I realised that I was like one re-reading a favourite novel, scanning familiar pages for landmarks recalled, and celebrating at once both my recall and the city's persistence. My eyes were frantic for detail. I couldn't open them wide enough.
Every street was a page indented by paragraphed turnings into side-streets. Parades of shops like stanzas in poetry.
The city was a vast Victorian novel with a cast of individually realised architectural characters all interconnected, the story arcs and plot twists mapped by these roads and junctions. Looking along just one street I could read the melodrama of the ten years I had been away: the relative fortunes of shops I remembered, the small grief where a business had disappeared, the fading of once upstart new architecture into a slightly shabby middle-age, the shock slide of some buildings into a neglected architectural dementia.
The city I loved had continued without me. It was naturally, and rightfully, oblivious to me. Others had far more claim to ownership. And yet... and yet I carried within me my personal version of this town, my own narrative of these streets.