We Need to Talk About Devon


On the 3rd April 2017 and after 44 years of living in Halifax I’m moving to Okehampton in Devon.

This has been a devastating blow for my existing plan of living here until old age, dying penniless in a council flat during a heat wave and being cut off my mattress a week later by bored council workers in hazmat suits. However I haven’t given up on that dream entirely and the moment I feel a bit peaky I’m ordering a load of milk, a council flat and heading back up North like a dying salmon.

As decisions go, you would think that moving to a beautiful part of the country and marrying the man you love would be something of a no brainer. However when you’ve never really lived anywhere else, that decision can be incredibly tough.

Those of you who went to university may have experienced this already. However to do it in your mid forties is a wrench. This town is part of me. I know every corner of it. I know how it smells in spring, summer autumn and winter. It’s in my blood and I love it.

This is a failing my grandfather shared. Apart from his wartime service with the RAF he was born, lived and died in Halifax and was unhappy for the greater part of his adult life. Perhaps there’s a lesson there?

Back in the 1990s I had an interview at a temp agency in Bradford. After the usual typing and spreadsheet tests, I was ushered into a room for a chat with a ‘recruitment professional’. She read my application form with surprise

“Is this right? Are you from Halifax?”

“Yes,” I said, nervously

“We don’t often get people from Halifax. They never want work anywhere else.”

It’s easy to see why. Halifax had the headquarters of the Halifax Building Society, the Nestle factory which makes Quality Street, After Eights and Easter eggs and the McVitie’s factory churning out Jamaica Ginger Cake. Then there were a multitude of large insurance companies, small businesses and so many pubs, clubs and restaurants that coach parties would come to the town for a night out. Jobs were everywhere. So working out of town was simply unnecessary.

So here I am packing up my worldly goods, hugging my nearest and dearest and heading down the motorway to the land of Ambrosia.

On Saturday an era ended, when for the final time in my little cottage, we did a five hour live podcast stream for Comic Relief. When it was over I handed the recording equipment to Andrew and Lisa to store in their Harry Potter cupboard in Manchester and waved them and Dill the podcast hound goodbye and a few hours later a slightly drunk Tom.

On Sunday morning the living room that had been crowded with microphones and good company felt incredibly empty and I found myself pre-emptively missing my friends and began to sob, big wet grief sobs, like when you’re a kid and a something makes your world fall apart. Then I had a Pot Noodle.

‘Why on earth are you putting yourself through this?’ I can hear you punching at your screen.

Love, dear reader. Stupid, soppy, romantic, idiotic love.

People do extraordinary things when they’re in love. There’s often no logic to it and in our case we’re breaking all the rules. Our wedding is on a tiny budget and will be organised in about six weeks and we’ve not known each  very long at all. However the one thing that living 300 miles apart has taught us is how to talk to each other. We’ve learned how to communicate. We’re complicated, silly, giggly and grumpy people. He is an optimist who wants to save the planet and I’m a nihilist who thinks it is beyond saving. However, fundamentally we are similar and I want to spend the rest of my  life  with him, or until he gets bored and dumps me for a supermodel.

As some of you may know, the announcement of an impending marrage leads to a sudden flood of unsolicited advice. This is just some  I’ve received:

“You’re going to irritate each other. You need to push through that until you stop noticing the things that irritate you.”

“Walk away from arguments. If you stay and shout it out you can really hurt each other. Go away and calm down.”

“Don’t use something that your other half did wrong in the past to justify something you’re doing now.”

“Remember why you fell in love. Try to remind yourself every day. Tell each other that you love each other.”

“Compromise Martin. You’re going to have trouble with that because you’ve been alone for so long. Learn how to do it.”

“Take some time apart. Make sure you spend time with your friends separately.”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. If one of you forgets to buy the eggs, it’s not the end of the world.”

Then there was the sex advice.

“Make time for sex. It’s so important to maintain that physical closeness.”

“Be honest in the bedroom. If they can do better, tell ‘em. If they smell, tell ‘em. I send my husband to the shower regularly.”

“You’ll find that you may fancy each other less as time goes by. Go to a hotel when that happens.” (Not sure what that will do. Perhaps it’s the tiny soaps?)

Then the divorcees chipped in.

“Never let another person into the marriage, they will kill it.”

“You’re partners in a business. Sometimes you need to treat it that way. If they’re causing that business to fail, fire them and go it alone.”

“If they cheat on you once, they’ll cheat on you again. Divorce them. No second chances.”

“Just get a dog.”

“That’s mental.”

Right, I have Marvel Blu-Rays to pack. Last one to the Belstone tea room is a woofter.

x

LGBT History Month 2017

Well it’s here again, LGBT History Month.

Most people will leave this particular aspect of February unmarked in their diary, and why not? After all, unless you identify as part of the rainbow alphabet you may be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t apply to you. However, if you dig a little deeper you find that LGBT history is the history of us all. There have been plenty of notable figures over the centuries who have been LGB or T. It was just that they couldn’t tell us at the time. We often only find out about it when they die and a dusty diary detailing desire or pain is plucked from the bottom of a long forgotten trunk.

This year is very special one. It marks 60 years since the Wolfenden Report recommended the legalisation of consensual homosexual acts between two men (it was never illegal between two women). Yes, you heard right bitchas! The WOLFENDEN report. How cool is my name now? Yeah, you can touch me. It is also 50 years since parliament acted on the report. OK, it did take a decade to get through parliament. Better late than never I suppose…and the age of consent was set at a ludicrous 21 and stayed that way until 1994. Which makes me technically a criminal. What with that and the home taping.

Anyway, before 1967 homosexuality was very illegal. In fact the police were so obsessed with catching men who touched each another’s winkles, they would hang about in lavatories dangling their own like worms on a fish hook. They still did that until recently, I think they just enjoyed it. If you were caught, your sentence would be severe. Between 1533 and 1828, you would be hanged. After 1828 you would probably spend a few years behind bars doing hard labour. Believing as they did, that picking apart tarred ropes and smashing rocks would have any bummer craving wholesome boobies in a jiffy*.

The 20th Century wasn’t much better – with imprisonment or chemical castration as the punishment du jour in the UK. If you happened to be over the sea in Germany during WW2 you may have found yourself in a concentration camp. Which, considering how many Nazi commanders were found in bed with blonde boys during the night of the long knives, was just a little bit hypocritical.

Transgender people are conspicuous by their absence in many LGBT histories. Often misgendered or misidentified as effeminate men or butch women, they have been overlooked or forgotten by eager historians only interested in tales of forbidden sexuality. So you may be forgiven for thinking that transgender people are a recent invention, especially as they have only been allowed to change their legal gender since 2005, and it is telling that even now the word ‘misgendered’ is showing as unrecognised on this computer’s spellchecker. However trans people have been around for… well, how long has humanity been around?

Let’s face it. Attitudes to bi people have been in the Stone Age for a very long time. They were considered by many gay and lesbian people to be tourists. Thought to be simply unwilling to commit to a single binary identity. Often they would find a less than warm welcome in the community unless they masked that side of themselves that preferred another gender. To be honest, at this point I would like to lie and say that I never shared those views. However I did. In fact I remember once saying to a bisexual man who asked me out in the 1990s ‘sorry, I just don’t trust bisexuals’. What a stupid young man I was. Fearful that we would fall in love and he would leave me for a more convenient life with a wife and 3 kids.

Since then I have examined that prejudice and discovered that bisexuality is not a fear of commitment to one person and believe me if a bi person picks you to spend their life with, you’d better be grateful. Because they had all of humanity to choose from.

So LGBT history hasn’t been a picnic and recent events in the United States have reminded us that people will always want to take hard won rights away. The monsters will be defeated eventually but until they are, we all need to be strong. Not only those of us who are part of this community but our friends and allies who are so very vital to permanently securing those rights.

This blog post has only scratched the surface of LGBT history and let’s face it, it’s not just LGBT anymore. The alphabet gets bigger every year with more and more people discovering who they are and adding letters and new colours to a rainbow that will shine on long after Donald J.Trump has turned to orange dust.

*Wholesome Boobies in a Jiffy is the unmade sequel to Se7en.

For some more information here is a graphic sent to me by the good people at https://carvakasextoys.co.uk/

A Special Podcast

Well it took weeks to write, a day  to record and 26 hours to edit. So I hope you will enjoy this special. We made it for Christmas but it has so little Christmas in it, you can listen to it any time. Christmas is a bad time to release excessively ambitious podcasts as everybody is too busy to listen to them…we did that. So here it is after Christmas. 

You can also grab it at iTunes

And at the podcast website brainjam.co.uk.

Trans Allies and Where to Find Them?

This year marks the 20th anniversary of my coming out as gay to my family and friends.

Back in those days ‘coming out’ was quite a daunting thing to do, not like these days with all the hover acceptance and flying equality. If you’re hetrosexual you’ll probably never have to tell your parents that you like to kiss willies or tongue tickle a clitoris. OK, you don’t say it like that exactly, but let’s face it, sexuality is about who you are sexually attracted to. So stating that you are attracted to people of the same gender you are pretty much fessing up to having sex with them. So, if like me, you were indoctrinated by the Catholic church to believe that sex was a dirty and wicked sin, you can imagine how mortifying it all was.

Anyway in 2005 I turned my back on the LGBT community and went into effective retirement from sexual life. The perfect pecs on the Gay Times front cover, the clubs that made me feel bad about my own skinny then doughy exterior and my inability to earn the “the pink pound” made me realise that I had nothing to offer that world.  I’d had quite enough of falling in love with the wrong people. So the prospect of a relationship gradually faded, until one day I found myself saying to a friend “why would I want a relationship? That would be awful! Having somebody cluttering up my bed and being forced to negotiate with them to watch my favourite TV show, not likely. I’ll be single until I die.”

However fate is a bitch and only three weeks later I walked into a room and met the man I fell in love with. So now I’m paying attention and the news isn’t good.

First I re-joined Stonewall  and had a look at what they were up to these days. Seems that a lot had been happening in my time away. I knew that the equal marriage act had been passed of course and that they were doing a lot of work helping overseas organisations campaign against some horrific human rights violations. However, I also noticed that they were finally fully representing trans people, who  had been pretty much ignored in the past.

Then I began to do my own research and discovered that there is a vast amount of work to do in this country around the rights of trans people. Currently the Gender Recognition Act is a horror story of legislation. It is far more interested in protecting the rights of cisgender people like me, than those of the people it is supposed to be supporting.

For instance, did you know that if a trans person wants to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate they need to have:

• An original or certified copy of a birth certificate
• Copies of any official documents that show their birth name has changed to their current name
• Proof that they’ve lived in their transitioned gender for 2 years.

They also need:

• A report from a doctor registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) or from psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council detailing any treatment they’ve had to transition, e.g. hormone treatment or surgery.

It doesn’t end there, and brace yourself because this one’s a doozy. If they are married they need to get permission from their spouse to legally change their gender.
Yes, you read that correctly. Their partner has veto power over something fundamentally personal because our politicians were worried about cisgender people being ‘forced’ into a same sex marriage. Now this is easily obtained if they have a supportive spouse. But what if you’re fleeing domestic violence or your spouse has run away to a different country? You can’t just divorce them, because divorce takes time and a controlling abuser will fight it.

Then to add insult to injury, a person wanting to obtain a GRC has to pay a £140 administration fee, which they lose if the application is rejected for any reason, effectively pricing out people on a low income.

And let’s not forget that to get to this stage many of the applicants will have transitioned and have already obtained reports from three psychologists and myriad medical professionals. So asking for more ‘proof’ to obtain a GRC is simply insane.

So why do I care?

Well I care because not that long ago Gay and Lesbian people were fighting for equality and in this country and that fight has been largely won. Now trans people are fighting for their rights and it is important that we all stand up and support them.

Things are getting better. The BBC and Channel 4 are doing great work in improving trans visibility on their networks with shows like Boy Meets Girl and Banana and a recent report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has advised that the GRA is amended and a self-declaration system introduced. However the GRC remains and they have steadfastly refused to make any recommendations regarding the spousal veto.

So there you go and as we used to shout in the olden days “I’m queer on a peer, over here. No here!” OK! I’m a little out of practice.

“The strange thing is I don’t actually own a dog.”

I bloody love dogs. In fact for the first 19 years of my life, you would have been hard pressed to see me more than a few feet away from one. However that changed the night I handed over the still warm and lifeless body of our little lurcher to the vet, after she gasping her final breaths on our living room carpet. After that, I said goodbye to our canine chums, deciding that the heartbreak was just too much.

Then in 2008, Andrew began seeing a woman called Lisa. Lisa was an animator who worked for the lovely Cosgrove Hall but more than that, Lisa owned a dog called Bob. One day Lisa and Andrew asked me to look after Bob for a couple of hours and I agreed. By this point Bob was already suffering from cancer and had lost a leg. However by the time Lisa and Andy had returned, I’d bought him a toy and stocked up on dog treats. I looked after him a couple more times before he passed away and I was reminded that a home is just better with a dog in it.

After a suitable period of mourning Lisa and Andrew adopted a lurcher called Hunter. The first time I met Hunter was when I opened my front door to a gangly, jumpy, chewy whirlwind. He burst into my living room and nearly knocked me to floor before diving head first into my kitchen flip-top bin (something he still does when he visits). Of course by now he was no longer called Hunter but went by the much nicer name of Dill.

So I was doggy ga-ga again and Dill quickly became the face of The Gentleman’s Review podcast. Let me be clear though. Dill is Lisa and Andrew’s hound, not mine. I say this because I tend to tweet lots of photos of him when he comes to visit and people often think that he’s my pooch. In fact he’s become so linked with me in the minds of my family that he featured on my 40th birthday cake.

So even though I love ‘em, the strange thing is, I don’t actually own a dog.

As an addition, I’d like to say how sad I am to hear about the loss of Floyd the lurcher who’s Twitter updates always made me happy, though I think he may have had help. On the same day my friend Becky lost her lovely lurcher Flossy who was a three and a half legged wonder of the world. Rest in piece my furry chums.

Even though this blog has its fair share of sadness, I would still like to encourage those of you who are looking for a new hound to consider adopting one from your local rescue charity. However, if like me, you work all day and live in rented accommodation. You can always donate some money to keep the lights on and the bellies, of humanity’s best friend, full.

Podding

This year is my sixth year of podcasting, so I thought I’d write about why me and my chums do it.

A couple of years ago in Edinburgh I spoke to a reasonably well known comedian who told me that he couldn’t understand why people did podcasts when the audiences for them are so small. He was right of course, unless you have an existing audience base built up through years of live work it is unlikely that your podcast will trouble the iTunes charts.

So why bother?

We bother because there is something wonderful about writing, performing, editing and publishing something yourself. It’s nice if lots of people listened to it too but audience figures are not the driving force. It is the joy of produce something with very little money that is only limited by your own talent. In my case, extremely limited. In fact you may well call it a hobby and if that hobby suddenly becomes successful as in the case of the Answer Me This and Welcome to Night Vale, all the better. But being in the iTunes chart should never be a reason for continuing or ending a podcast. The shows I do with my friends are not in the charts and probably never will be but we still get a several hundred downloads a month. The way I look at it is if you were doing a live sketch show for 800 people, you’d feel that you were doing quite well. So why bother that you’re not getting ten thousand? You still have an audience.

Podcast audiences are the nicest around. They support podcasts like a football fan supports their favourite team. Recently we unexpectedly found ourselves in a tricky situation. The sound recorder we had used since 2008 to record all our podcasts died and the problem could not be repaired. We had tried in the past to record podcasts using a variety of computers but had found that the computers generated so much electronic noise that the recordings were unusable. So we were stuck. None of us are particularly well off so the £100 required to replace it could as we have been £1,000,000. That’s when I hit upon the idea of starting a funding page, I quite honestly didn’t believe anybody would donate money to keep us going but I submitted the page and told the people of Twitter and Facebook what we were doing and within 80 minutes we had passed our target. This completely stunned me and I was speechless for some minutes that such kind people had put their hands in their pocket to save our enterprise before being moved to tears by some of the kind comments made with the donations. No, we’re not at the top of the iTunes charts but we do have the best listeners in the world. Beat that ‘Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4’.

In the spirit of supporting ones favourite podcasts, here are mine in no particular order.

Vitriola Music

Adorable comedians Michael Legge and Robin Ince discuss their favourite music and musicians in a bid to encourage people to buy more records and tapes. It is a joyous half hour of old men shouting at each other, imagine a lovely Statler and Waldorf and you’ll be somewhere close to how entertaining this can be.

POTOm

To call The Trap a sketch group would be like calling Albert Einstein ‘a bit brainy’. They are in fact a quantum singularity of hilarity created by the critical mass of Jeremy Limb, Paul Litchfield and Dan Mersh. Their podcast is called ‘POTOm’ and it makes me hurt laughing. It is also the reason for Brainjam’s house style of referencing old radio and TV shows. Being similar ages to Dan, Paul and Jeremy we often found that we were treading on each others toes and I’ve lost track of the times I’ve deleted sketches after hearing a funnier version weeks before we were set to record. In short POTOm is the gold standard for comedy podcasts.

The Angelos & Barry Show

Angelos Epithemiou and Barry from Watford have teamed up for this ridiculously funny podcast. Best not to listen while using heavy machinery as my mate crushed his head while laughing near a mangle.

The Colonel’s Radio Show

The Colonel and Sage Macorkadale have been a fixture on my iPod and iPhones for many years now. The brainchild of father and son double act Josh and George Tobin-Dudley it is a regular tour de force of character comedy. One day I hope to see them do this on a stage in front of an audience.

Podcasta Non Grata

Adem Koci off of Australia talks about the things that vex his brain. It is the only podcast on this list not on iTunes.

Welcome to Night Vale

Set in the community radio station of a small desert town called Night Vale, Cecil Palmer – who from what we can tell is the only presenter on the station, narrates the strange adventures of the town’s population.

The Bugle

You know what this is. If you don’t, shame on you.

Of course it would be remiss of me if I didn’t plug our podcasts. To make it easy just go to brainjam.co.uk, where there are links to all five of our podcasts.

I’m away for a weee. Byeee!

Ideas

That was quick! It was only an hour between publishing yesterday’s blog and the summary execution of Mr. Laughs’ television show. So today’s post is about my winning the Euromilliner Lottery. HAHAHA! It isn’t really. Which is a pity because I could have done with a giant box of berets.

The blog is actually about the horrible business of buying Christmas presents. As year after sodding year goes by, it becomes increasing difficult to purchase original gifts those you loved. So this year I have made a list and checked it twice, just for you. You know? To take the crying and killing out of what should be the most wonderful minute of the year.

Christmas List

Mother: Embryo hat.

Father: Cramplet.

Sister (small): Petrol.

Sister (medium): Jellied face.

Sister (large): Ghetto grease.

Sister (enormous): Jest pump.

Brother (inverted): Box of space.

Brother (prefabricated): Gay snakes.

Brother (elasticated): Gas wand.

Grandmother: Pickled Bible.

Grandfather: Ginzillade glass and monocle set.

Friends: Spiders.

Enemy: The Ring of Rassilon.

When you’ve bought that lot, settle down with some Bailey’s and have a good listen to the Brainjam and Wilson & Wolfenden podcasts. Both are available on the iTunes and Soundclouds, if you are so inclined.

Love you.

Women Again!

 Oh Lord, look at what’s going on! 

For two weeks an earthquake has rocked the already shaky foundations of social media. It has turned previously reasonable human beings into frothing imbeciles and caused consternation to those of us who just want to be nice. 

Until recently the name Dapper Laughs was as unknown to me as…er, well, something that is unknown. However his TV show and Vine uploads have really brought into focus what is acceptable in the modern world of comedy. It has been a sharp reminder that the spectre of the frilly shirted stand up of the 1960s and 1970s is always ready to slime everything that has been built on since the 1980s. 

This could have been such a good thing for comedy. Imagine if it had galvanised the whole community against this one throwback. Comedians standing together to tell him where to go. However, it seems to have had the opposite effect, with far too many comedians taking the side of Mr Laughs believing that they are in some way defending his freedom of speech. Over the last few years the comedy world has seen subjects like race, disability and rape taken out of casual use and placed into the more cerebral arena of the one person show. So perhaps these ‘defenders of free speech’ are simply tired of writing new material. 

So why do I care? After all, I only exist on the fringe of the fringe of the fringe of the comedy world. I care because it pains me to see so many people not understanding why being shitty to somebody because they have different sexual organs is as ridiculous as attacking a person because they prefer tea to coffee. 

Perhaps it’s because I’m a big old gayer that I don’t see a woman as just a series of  sexy bumps and thighs. Neither do I feel that a woman doing better than me is an assault on my masculinity. I love women. I think women are beautiful, brilliant and amazing. Granted, I’ve know a few who aren’t but for the most part I’ve met more male arseholes than female. Completely contradicting my previous blog post. I am nothing if not inconsistent. 

To end this blog I am going to say something which will send many Doctor Who fans into a tailspin. I would welcome a female Doctor. There it is in black and white: Martin John Patrick Wolfenden of Halifax in West Yorkshire hereby states that he would welcome a female Doctor. For those of you who believe that a woman could never play a part traditionally played by a man…well, I’ll just leave this picture here.

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Outragious

At 6:45am this morning I awoke to the sound of chamber music floating from the grills of the digital radiogram next to my bed and the sinking dread that I would have to leave it soon and get ready for work. My morning routine has been like this for years so I know that next on the itinerary is to switch on my iPhone and check Twitter and Facebook. Within seconds of the feeds refreshing I am subject to blogs, articles and videos telling me not to be a sexist, homophobic racist. It’s like an angry headmaster shouting “WOLFENDEN! AT THIS SCHOOL WE DO NOT GRAB WOMEN BY THE BREASTS, WHILE VOTING BNP AND KICKING A GAY BLOKE TO DEATH.”

The problem is that these post are already preaching to the converted. If somebody is your friend on Facebook they probably share many of your views about a fair society and if they don’t, just block them. The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t reason with these people. They are idiots and they will remain idiots until the day that they die while attempting to cut their toenails with the national grid in a bath full of petrol.

Before you ask, I’m not joining in with the NOT ALL MEN nonsense. Frankly I’m too old to get involve with such tit for tat juvenile rubbish. It is perfectly obvious that not all men are arsholes and neither are all women. For every Justin Beiber there’s a Miley Cyrus and every Margaret Thatcher has a Ronald Reagan. So to suggest that either sex has a claim to the title of ‘most virtuous’ is palpably ridiculous.

If you want to make a difference in the world then promote the work of one of a thousand organisations doing their best to help animals and people at home and abroad. The world doesn’t need more Twitter and Facebook outrage, but it does need you promote the work of these organisations so that they can continue to help the neglected and dispossessed of this planet.

Here is a link to my favourite charity, Tia Greyhound and Lurcher Rescue. They do a fantastic job keeping pointy nosed dogs safe from extermination, while they wait for somebody to give them a loving home. Here is a picture of Dill (The Podcast Hound) who came from Tia seven years ago and is adored by us all.

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However Dapper Laughs is a disease.

Now I’ve got that off my chest I’d like to plug the brand spanking new Wilson & Wolfenden podcast. The first episode will be up on iTunes and wilsonandwolfenden.com.

Have a lovely day.