I gravitate towards too many books that mirror my narrative as a gay man. It made me realise that I read very little about the female queer experience.

I try and read a lot of LGBTQ literature. On my ‘to read list’ this year, is the book Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd, a book that looks at the significant topic of gay shame. There is also the novel Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez which tells the story of a black, gay Jehovah Witness man. I gravitate towards too many books that mirror my narrative as a gay man. It made me realise that I read very little about the female queer experience.

After reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, I was infatuated with her lesbian characters. She presented all the nuances of a lesbian relationship. She also provided a commentary on feminism, gender identity and shone a much-needed light on domestic abuse in same-sex relationships. 

Marrying all of these ingredients to an assiduously written novel about the black female experience, there is no doubt that I became so attached to the characters. It took me a while to pick up another novel. No wonder it won the Booker Prize in 2019. 

Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt is a book that ticked so many boxes for me.

While The Price of Salt is about two white American women, Carol and Therese, the novel left me with a lump in my throat. Their relationship, which takes a long time to materialise, reminded me of how many LGBTQ novels in the twentieth century used age as almost a metaphor for seduction. Therese is barely twenty-one years old, whereas Carol, whose age is never revealed, must be at least forty. 

Therese’s naivety is like a moth to a flame for Carol. But as the novel progresses, Therese gains a backbone, one of the rewards of heartbreak. Highsmith, the author, throws them into a Thelma and Louise style scenario, but rather than running from the police, they are running from their heterosexual past.

Without giving away any spoilers, Carol’s past is what dictates the fate of their relationship. Her controlling husband, who she is in the processing of divorcing, forces her to choose her daughter over love. The novel was written in the 1950s, and despite the openness of their relationship, they are never victims of the obvious examples of prejudice. Their love is often treated condescendingly, it is seen as a phase, something innocuous. 

On the other hand, it is Carol’s marriage with her husband which legally roots her to her past. She is inhibited. In fact, I don’t really believe that her husband is angry with Carol, but he can exercise his power and control over her. Now, I often wonder what could have happened to Carol and Therese.

The Price of Salt is now also a film

An extraordinary, yet an often-shocking insight into transgender representations in film and television.

Back in April, a few weeks into lockdown, I started writing a diary again. I guess the compulsion came from what was happening, that 2020 had to be documented in some way. My endeavour fizzled out quite quickly. I had forgotten that diaries often talk about what isn’t happening. This changed last week when I watched the Netflix documentary Disclosure.

After watching Disclosure, a documentary by Sam Feder and Amy Scholder, I took to my diary and treated it like a proverbial soapbox. Disclosure is an extraordinary, yet an often-shocking insight into transgender representations in film and television. A plethora of actors and thinkers analyse and dissect how transgender characters have been depicted. Additionally, they share their own experiences too.

The documentary reveals an obvious pattern. Trans characters have inevitably been pigeonholed into roles that an audience can digest. Roles that have been designed by the media’s depiction of what a trans person’s narrative should be like. A distorted one, nonetheless. A life reserved to be a victim of sexual abuse, a prostitute or a sexual predator. I couldn’t help thinking, this is the image that a mainstream audience wanted to see. People didn’t want to be proven wrong. If it is on celluloid, then it must be true.

One moment in the documentary which resonated with me was how trans characters were constantly reminded of their past. A transgender woman, who was playing the role of a cancer patient in a hospital drama, discovers that she has prostate cancer. It was almost like a metaphorical “you’ll always be a man” to an audience. 

There are some moments which are difficult to watch. Laverne Cox, who is a transgender actress, regularly contributes to the documentary by providing some invaluable observations. She unpacks a scene where a transgender character is sexually assaulted. Cox is reduced to tears. Her observations on the film Boys Don’t Cry highlight the violence bestowed upon transgender people and somehow, their voices remain terrifyingly unheard.

I had been basking in all my cowardice glory before writing about trans rights. Anchored with a feeling of insecurity. Not knowing enough. Watching the documentary left me with a burgeoning desire to write. Having my diary has given me the fuel I needed to acquiesce.

Disclosure provides an endless unfiltered truth that many of us have probably ignored. Or comments that appear to be innocuous when actually, they are examples of transphobia. I have realised it isn’t about possessing a wealth of knowledge to show your support towards the trans community. It is the ability to recognise where the source of these portrayals has come from, often from a heteronormative agenda which manipulates the truth. Trans rights are human rights.

This article was originally published in Euro Weekly News, an English newspaper in Spain.

THE ALBUM DIARY/2006/MUSIC/MEMOIR

As a curious 19-year-old, I was never aware of how much this album would make sense right now.

My album diary 2006: Fundamental by Pet Shop Boys

By 2006, I had changed dramatically. I always thought it would have been university that would have changed me, but it wasn’t. It was the world that was opening up around me as a consequence of being at uni. As I mentioned in the last instalment, I had become acquainted with the Manchester nightlife scene and now I was about to move in with my friends. The nucleus was definitely music and for the first time ever, we were all interested in each other’s music tastes.

One of my fondest memories of this time was buying CDs. Singles and albums in 2006 had an entirely different meaning. It was the thrill of walking into Fopp or HMV and seeing something you wanted at a reduced price. Walking around with stacks of CDs asking one another “should I buy this? I only like one of the songs on there”. I am often nostalgic for these times. 

Most of my friends probably think that the Pet Shop Boys are my favourite band. To an extent they are, but in 2006, I was still getting to know them. Looking back now, I was more drawn to Neil Tennant. Seduced by his lyrics, his monosyllabic yet articulate singing voice, his intellect and the fact that he started his career in music at the age of thirty-one. It is insane to think that people would describe the Pet Shop Boys laconically. Two men who wear strange hats, or the duo with the silent member who stands behind the synthesizer in a wig. 

Tennant has always pioneered lyrics that incorporate enough of the zeitgeist so that many Pet Shop Boys albums can be listened to like a novel. They consolidate the importance of pop music, providing a time capsule for their listeners, rather than something ephemeral.

Last year, Neil Tennant published a book of his lyrics, the appropriately titled One Hundred Lyrics and A Poem. To read such a book is an interesting one as the melodies have eclipsed the words somehow, making the lyric subsequently a secondary force in their music. As I progressed through the book, that started to change. Tennant included many lyrics to songs which have not surfaced as singles, perhaps to promote the fact that he is indeed an incredible lyricist. You might think, how do we quantify an incredible lyricist?

Well, reader, it goes back to my argument that I mentioned earlier. The Pet Shop Boys are synonymous with the likes of West End Girls and Go West, but have a look at the lyrics to Love Is a Bourgeois Construct and ask yourself the question, where have you seen Marxist rhetoric in a pop song before? The lyrics were inspired by the novel Nice Work by David Lodge, in which a factory worker falls in love with a university English professor. I remember being at a house party in Manchester, feeling slightly like a wallflower when an old friend of mine once took my hand and said: “Liam, Neil Tennant is basically Morrissey, but a disco version”.  Someone agreed with me.

My trajectory as a Pet Shop Boys fan began with their 2003 greatest hits collection, Pop Art. I remember hearing Flamboyant, which was the lead single from that album and being instantly drawn to it. I probably didn’t even understand what the word flamboyant meant, but I wanted to know more. My brother Martin is a Pet Shop Boys fan. He mentioned their album Nightlife, but at the time, it felt too much like a house album for my electro-pop appetite. I hadn’t been to a club at this time as I was only sixteen and fresh out of a school uniform and my GCSE curriculum. 

Nightlife, however, did a get a second look thanks to Kylie Minogue’s Showgirl tour in 2005. She performed In Denial with Tennant’s vocal beguiling and persuasive amongst the pink cowboy hats and the screaming waves of Kylie fans at the M.E.N Arena. I hadn’t realised that In Denial was an album track off Nightlife.

It was their 2006 album Fundamental which became my first earnest Pet Shop Boys album. After years of listening to their back catalogue, I was about to experience having a PSB album in real-time. I bought Fundamental impulsively in HMV in Leeds. With my loyal Sony Discman, I started to preview the tracks on the coach back to Manchester. A rainy Chorlton Street bus station clashed beautifully with the song The Sodom and Gomorrah Show.  

It was a Trevor Horn produced album, who many have described, as the man who defined the eighties. Starting off as one half of The Buggles, he has subsequently established himself as one of the most innovative producers we have seen. Horn’s repertoire boasts orchestral productions, to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax and he also produced All the Things She Said by the Russian duo Tatu.

Sonically, Fundamental is the consequence of the hurricane that was electroclash. Both Tennant and Lowe remixed many songs that were played in nightclubs such as Nag Nag Nag and so the impetus for this record was for it to be electronic. The antithesis perhaps to their 2002 album, Release. In addition to its being an electronic album, it was indeed going to be a directly political album.

As a nineteen-year-old listening to it in 2006, I could never imagine how this album would feel seminal in 2020. There were obvious winks to the Blair/Bush relationship in the lead single I’m With Stupid, but who would have thought that the song Indefinite Leave to Remain would make perfect sense in a post-Brexit Britain?. A love song that uses the document that affords the individual the right to remain a permanent resident in the UK as its source of inspiration.

It is by far one of my favourite Pet Shop Boys songs and one of my favourite loves songs ever written. The matter of fact lyrics and now, its meaning more vivid and more significant than ever. Tennant wrote that song under a Labour government. Now, we listen to it under the leadership of Boris Johnson and his cabinet who have made immigration a priority as part of their political manifesto.

Other songs present this Orwellian image of the world. Integral talks about surveillance, a Big Brother society, contextualising the advent of ID cards that were once being discussed by the government. The idea of safety and security which was a consequence of 9/11. In Twentieth Century the lyrics go “well I bought a ticket to the revolution and I cheered when the statues fell” hitting more than the tip of the iceberg at recognising what happened post 9/11 and the consequence of the Blair war on Iraq.

Fundamental portrayed a socio-political landscape that on the one hand may look foreign to us now. It is Tennant’s acute observations embedded amongst the electronic theatrics of the record that highlighted a possible future existence. The album provides us all with something to reflect on.

Another example could be how smart phones have monopolised our lives. Social media hadn’t reached its zenith in 2006, but it was certainly climbing the stairs towards it. Most of my friends and I used MySpace. In retrospect, there was something just as hierarchical and political about that platform. Perhaps it was less narcissistic as Instagram, but the infamous top friends list which would change like a fickle barometer. Whoever had the coveted number one spot status on the list received immediate kudos and publicity.

2006 will always remain a significant year for me. It was a year in which living away from home provided the type of freedom and independence I had never experienced before. Our house, with its basement of opportunities, an energy that still felt adolescent. A fearlessness that is now anchored by responsibility and domesticity.  There was still an essence of innocence around which began to feel like an interloper in my life as 2007 arrived.

TV has given me both a history lesson and a routine. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of America’s past.

Since the restrictions in Spain have decreased, I have felt little desire to leave my house. My street has now gone from the comforting soundtrack of birdsong to university students congregating, albeit at a distance, in bars. The old sounds have returned. I am not ready for them. It is fair to say, I enjoyed it while it lasted. People appear to be ready to return to their old habits and planning get-togethers. This is not to say that I haven’t missed my friends and family during this time but knowing that they are fine is enough for me.

Our days are peppered with the proverbial ‘What day is it?’. There is little difference between a Tuesday afternoon and a Saturday afternoon. Even the simplest endeavours have to be orchestrated meticulously. A trip to the supermarket was never an appealing prospect for me before the pandemic, now I can just about handle a small supermarket and the local greengrocers.

The whole concept of the future seems foreign, a word that we have had to redefine almost. Plans have become a feeling of false currency, weddings have been postponed, cultural events and holidays cancelled. Our addiction to the reward hormone dopamine has had to find other ways to operate. In my previous column, I wrote about how cultural events and their postponement has meant that we have had to adapt to other ways of enjoying these special moments. Thanks to technology, this is possible. The recent VE Day anniversary came with virtual street parties, a nostalgic renaissance that encouraged the essence of living in a community. Additionally, it has also encouraged a thirst for the past and how it never fails to inform us of our present.

My interest in American history has been facilitated by the humble television. I had the intention of going to San Francisco this year at some point, to live out my Tales of the City fantasy. Even books that I want to read all seem to be by American writers and gravitate to a sociopolitical landscape that once was. Nathan Hill’s novel The Nix and Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. Both of which seem to tell stories from the past in a country that, because of the arts, has always appealed to me. Maybe it’s the unknown as after thirty-three years I still haven’t crossed the Atlantic. 

Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood on Netflix completely blew me away. Not only is it so beautifully constructed, as I’d expect from the man behind the American Horror series, but it also tackles a plethora of social taboos. Set just after the Second World War, Murphy’s characters oscillate from prostitution, homosexuality, racial discrimination, sexism and anti-Semitism. Marry all these factors with the heartbeat of the antiquated nuances of 1950s Hollywood, which was this hierarchical melting pot of misogyny, superficiality and to lead with a commercial head. Fortunately, this only strengthens the compulsion of the characters. By the end of the show, I was rooting for them. I went to bed thinking, will there be a happy ending? I was on the edge of my sofa at the Academy Awards moment, believing that the fate of Camille Washington and Anna May Wong was real. Their voices may be fictional, but their resonance is undeniable.

Another series which has also been providing me with a history class and perhaps, part sociology, is Mrs America. Telling the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and its surprising criticism by a conservative housewife, Phyllis Schafly, played by Cate Blanchett. As well as being assiduously written, it pushes to the foreground the many contradictions and layers that have been presented by both a conservative political agenda and feminism. The classic scene with Phyllis and Betty at a university event only reinforces the notion of internalised misogyny. Betty, who is an esteemed feminist writer and activist, verbally attacks Phyllis. Betty is left looking like the one who hates women, whereas Phyllis, in her all Republican uniform, remains insouciant. Phyllis won the debate because she didn’t react to Betty’s rage.

The character of Alice Macray played by the formidable Sarah Paulson whose arc in the series takes her from the subordinate housewife and, by episode nine, she is dipping her toe into the feminist world. Her character is complex yet relatable. Alice isn’t based on other historical figures who have been seminal to the story, she represents how we all think. How our opinions can be equivocal and how we are manipulated by the words of others. For me, I related to her insecurity, her inability to respond to certain questions at a political convention, nevertheless, having the right words to say at the right time.

I have also devoured the Netflix documentary Circle of Books, which tells the story of Karen and Barry Mason who owned the rather innocuously looking bookstore which stocked gay pornography. The talking-head interviews reflect on the shop’s cultural significance, with observations from previous employees including Drag Race icon, Alaska.

The presence of having a television plays such an important role in your days while in lockdown. Creating an imaginary timetable, reminding me of those Sunday nights as a child and all those nineties TV programmes. Even though my partner and I are big readers, there’s no denying that a series set in the past provides you with an escape and something to talk about over dinner.

HBO seems to be distributing episodes weekly, which heightens this feeling of ‘retro viewing’, reminding us of how we used to consume television, once upon a time. I know for some people, this is perhaps annoying, as we’ve become a nation of binge viewers. Having said that, as our days blend into one perpetual week, there is some comfort in having these tiny examples of a routine, especially when it involves being entertained.

THIS MONTH: I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I read the second part of this two years ago. It is everything that I expected. 

 

I’m in the company of the fictitious Mau Tempo family in the south of Portugal. Also, if my eight-year-old neighbour can teach me a lesson or two, then there is hope for us all.

When I started writing this column, I thought to myself, I should be in Oporto. I had planned to visit my favourite Portuguese city during my Easter break, but like everyone’s travel plans, we have all been affected. I gave myself the permission to entertain a petulant sulk, before accepting that one can’t be self-indulgent at the moment.

I have only been to Portugal twice. On both occasions, I fell in love with the country. I often favour it over Spain and somehow its language, history and customs never cease to fascinate me. On my first trip, I discovered the writer and poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote a plethora of work in English. I also bought a novel by Jose Saramago called Skylight which heavily referenced Lisbon, observing several families who live in the same building.

My second trip, back in 2019 I did the same. I bought another Saramago novel from a nondescript bookshop in Aveiro, Oporto. I say nondescript because it was nothing like the bookshop in Lisbon, a beautiful ornate shop in Barrio Alto. This time it was Raised from the ground a novel that has been argued as Saramago’s most autobiographical work. It follows the Mau Tempo family, which in English means bad weather and the struggles of the agricultural workers in the south of Portugal. Entertaining ideas about the birth of communism and Salazar’s dictatorship, it is a stunningly written book.

A book felt like the most special way I could connect to Portugal. A feeling of romantic geography perhaps, that something as assiduous as a book with all its references makes the experience more vivid. Obviously, I could have easily emulated the recipe of bacalhau a bras. I could have reconnected with my favourite Portuguese band Madredeus, imagining myself listening to some Fado whilst savouring my portotonic. I could imagine a stroll next to the River Douro, the myriad tiles in Sao Bento station and breakfast in my favourite no-frills café just by the entrance of Rua das Flores.

Reading Raised from the ground provided me with a way of being able to travel to Portugal. Most books provide this sensation, an ability to travel in any direction to any destination. The novel’s brutality, however, didn’t offer the romanticised simulacrum I was looking for, but it did allow me to connect to a place where I had intended on being. It reminded me of how important those small rituals are when we travel. The purchasing of books, gifts for family and friends or even keeping a travel journal. It did help to read a novel that documents such a collapse in the socio-political status quo to help me reflect on what is currently happening. The Mau Tempo family live in poverty, like the majority of the families in their tiny village. This pandemic only highlights how so many people live in these circumstances.

Saramago is an alchemist when it comes to language, yet it is the way he writes about his country with an earnest conviction. Portraying social class with integrity and humour. 

MY 8-YEAR-OLD NEIGHBOUR KNOWS BEST

Spending the Easter break at home made me realise just how much being in lockdown has affected us culturally. It is easy to emulate a holiday at home; making some homemade pasta and suddenly you’re in an ersatz Florence. However, for Spain’s annual Holy Week, it is another story. I speak from the perspective of someone who is not particularly religious, yet respectful and empathetic that this week is indeed part of not just the country’s cultural tapestry, but the nucleus of a community.

With the current situation forbidding processions of any kind, I know for many people, my partner’s family included, how upsetting this is. Holy Week processions, on the one hand, paralyse a city, the streets are overpopulated which makes me avoid the city centre. Whereas on the other hand, they provide this multisensorial experience combining the smell of incense and the live marching band into something visceral, regardless of your religious views. Like any public holiday, it encourages the reuniting of families, remembering memories which right now feel like a halcyon daydream, and the enjoyment of rediscovering old recipes, like the famous dessert torrijas .

My other half has been burning the Holy Week incense all week. An invasive cloud of frankincense punctuates my living room, I much prefer Nag Champa, but there is something sentimental about it. It has a purpose. I imagine the disdain of the two university students who live opposite. The smell isn’t to everyone’s liking. 

Our next-door neighbour, however, has reacted differently.  As he could smell the incense from our flat, he suddenly felt optimistic, that he too could have this smell in his home. He, therefore, could create his own version of Holy Week albeit in quarantine. 

We gifted him his very own incense burner which he treated like it was some new-fangled toy. Like a book did for me, this rather innocuous object allowed him to create his own Holy week experience at home. I was impressed by his optimism. I was in awe of his dedication to the real meaning behind Easter. When I was his age, I would have probably begged my parents to give me a bag of Mini Eggs that would have been in the kitchen cupboard. 

When I think about how much has been put on hold, it reminds me just how responsible people here have been. Andalucia is a gregarious nation and Holy Week is one of the endless opportunities here where culture and family are intertwined. I find it rather inspirational to see people adapting, to see people redefining moments that contain so many memories that transcend generations in their families. 

THIS MONTH

I’M READING: LULLABY by Leila Slimani. Combining the merits of a literary novel and a psychological thriller. It tells the story of a killer nanny and her past.

I’M WATCHING: KILLING EVE. The new season returned last week and Villanelle never fails to impress me. Jodie Comer speaking Catalan was a treat. I can’t wait for the next episode.

DUA LIPA: FUTURE NOSTALGIA REVIEW

Dua Lipa’s second album, the flawless Future Nostalgia is the best pop album since the noughties. I dive deep into some pop history whilst celebrating this significant pop moment.

BEFORE I EVEN begin to look at Dua Lipa’s new album, Future Nostalgia, I think it is only fair to cast our minds back to the years 2000 to 2010. This was the decade where earnest pop monopolised our musical landscape. From Pink’s Missundazstood, Kylie Minogue’s Fever and then Confessions on a Dancefloor by Madonna. Post-2005 saw Britney’s Blackout and of course, the incarnation of Lady Gaga and The Fame Monster. Throughout this time pop had one objective, to entertain. 

Dua Lipa brought the release of Future Nostalgia forward in an attempt to cheer people up. It’s being branded as the official quarantine album, but the undertone to her message is that during these dark times, pop music is the antidote. If I were Lipa, I’d feel a certain sense of schadenfreude, other artists have postponed the release of their albums. She has managed to release, promote and even perform live thanks to social media. Where there is a will, there’s a way, showing us all how popstars work from home.

In all its 37 minutes, Future Nostalgia takes you out of your ‘work at home bubble’ and forces you to not only dance but bow down to what I believe is the finest collection of pop songs we will hear this year. The singles have only affirmed such a cocksure statement. It is hard to objectify what makes a decent pop song, but with the likes of the disco romp of Don’t Start Now and the electro-pop delight of the 80s inspired Physical, there’s no denying that these are songs that become embedded in your brain that even hypnotherapy wouldn’t help. The flawless trajectory of singles included the album’s title track in which she presents herself as ‘a female alpha’. Recent single Break My Heart keeps up the retro-sounding continuity thanks to its main melody referencing INXS’ Need You Tonight. The song builds around the famous hook, before piling out melodic brilliance after melodic brilliance, the bridge is this stunning crescendo and the middle 8 dreamy ‘oohs’ wink at the disco theme that consolidates the bulk of this record.                                                                        

Cool tones things down, with its 80s sounding synths, it is also heavily influenced by its co-writer, Tove Lo. You could see it as a ballad against the rest of its up-tempo counterparts. Dua’s voice manages to combine a stunning sense of vulnerability whilst simultaneously demanding attention and personifying authority. Hallucinate is an echo of how pop songs used to sound. By that I mean lyrically interesting, melodic yet powerful enough to fill a dancefloor on a Saturday night. The song is almost like a retrospective to those anthemic songs from the noughties. Taking us back to the pop lexicon of the likes of Kylie’s singles from Fever and Girls Aloud’s more high energetic moments like Something Kinda Ooh.  It is arguably the standout track on the album. Thanks to Dua’s falsetto in the ‘no, I can’t live without your touch’ pre-chorus, with echoes of Donna Summer.

Pretty Please excels in its simplicity. Co-written by Julia Michaels, it orbits around Dua’s lascivious lyrics, every now and then it is joined by the occasional appearance of some synthesisers, to keep our feet tapping along.  Love Again is the longest track on the album, over four minutes. Its orchestral introduction quickly unfolds into a sample of the 1997 track Your Woman by White Town. The track is sophisticated. Spearheading this new disco-inspired era for Lipa. Its melodies are intelligent and seem to appear behind every corner.  It has winks to Girls Aloud with the idiosyncratic lyric ‘I’ll sink my teeth in disbelief’.  Levitating glistens with the album’s disco blueprint, it comes equipped with an infectious rap section in which Dua talks about rockets and dancing her ass off. 

Future Nostalgia kicks off a new decade in pop. One that hopefully brings back the sincerity of producing songs to entertain. I understand Gaga delaying Chromatica but releasing an album of this standard whilst we are in quarantine is a smart move. We turn to entertainment at such precarious times. Good pop unites. It’s been twenty years since pop shifted on its axis. I am talking the arrival of Kylie’s Spinning Around. But as Lipa sings ‘did a full 180’ , here is to the popstar who is definitely taking us in the right direction.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6nB0ZJcesrDo9aYjENDcJm?si=3EHBvg14RRCAH9-hHF-4CA

I’ve never been able to compartmentalise, and working from home isn’t helping. How is everyone else coping with the intrusion of work in a place that ought to be our sanctuary?

“You should write a self-isolation diary; it would do you good” this is what my other half suggests to me. A diary, however, sounded like a perfect idea on my first day in quarantine. Thanks to the erasure of a routine. Thanks to the possibility of working from home, my only task would be to reflect and write down my thoughts. That pipe dream lasted for a few hours only.

The phrase self-isolation is probably one we never thought we would say. Its presence is now ubiquitous. Many of us have transformed our homes into offices, gyms and creative spaces. We have embraced all the shows we can watch on Netflix. We have all downloaded Zoom. We have all realised that, in fact, staying at home isn’t that bad. As long as we remind ourselves that is what it is, home.

On many occasions I have been at work and fantasised with the idea of what it would be like to be free at six in the afternoon on a Thursday. I hypothesise myself on the sofa, cats by my side, tackling a thick novel I have put off reading and I am sure a plate of custard creams is in the scene too. I have always found home to be my refuge. The place where I disconnect, and I can abandon work life where it should be. At work.

I have never worked from home. Even though in my free time I am a writer and occasionally use my flat for work. The whole concept of working from home and doing my day job is an alien one. Writing however doesn’t feel like work. I control my own timetable. I control when I stop for a cup of tea. I control when I choose to procrastinate. Working from home as a teacher and manager consists of being connected to two email accounts and  two WhatsApp groups. Don’t get me started on WhatsApp groups!

Adapting to my new working from home set up means, I wake up at a decent hour and start approaching my tasks at around 9AM. I don’t mind the essay correcting and the liaising with students. What I find tricky is when I decide to finish at lunchtime, by the way, lunchtime in Spain is at two o’ clock, an email will appear an hour later, then an avalanche of WhatsApp messages will follow.

I’m not the only one who sees technology as both paradoxically, helpful and annoying. But I am really struggling with having the emotional resonance of work in my living room. I know I am responsible enough to realise that with an email or instant message, the beauty is that I can reply when I want. Perhaps it is my need to make people feel at ease as it is such a precarious time and I feel I have to give people a quick response. It is the challenge of having work present in a place where I endeavour to unplug. Or perhaps there is a silver lining to having a routine, at least there is an end to your working day. An official one.

Maybe all of this is a simulacrum for me to see that really, my fantasies of reading on the sofa on a rainy Thursday afternoon are indeed just fantasies. If I were a full time writer, I wouldn’t have to explain for the 50th time the same information to a parent via email. Yet, it doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be other issues that would inevitably drive me up the wall. The fantasy has therefore been thwarted, albeit with a dollop of reluctance. 

Additionally, during these uncertain times, my attitude towards social media has also changed. People are using it in ways that we haven’t used it before. It is inspiring to see Stephen Fry obsessively bake, or a magazine organising a club night with a DJ all through a live Instagram story or even Lena Dunham’s romance novel for Vogue. There is an essence of inclusivity and access. The spirit of community is relentless; something that makes this surreal situation much less difficult.

Even the popstar Dua Lipa has brought forward the release of her second album Future Nostalgia, there seems to be this collective objective to cheer people up. The internet has provided us with this audiovisual rhetoric that has transformed our homes without the mention of that four-letter word, work.

So, the diary that I didn’t write has found itself in this column. I did write a diary on my fourth day of self-isolation. It mentions how I made flap jacks and how I had started watching Divorce on HBO. Like most diaries, they document the banal. The footnote to that diary entry was how I hoped that being locked in my flat with my partner wouldn’t lead to our demise. Perhaps he was right, perhaps in a diary I escape from the thoughts of work. A place for emotional release. Something that doesn’t involve an email asking me to predict how long we will be in quarantine for. All I know is, that song by Fifth Harmony now has a whole different meaning.

THIS MONTH:

I AM READING

 FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser- Akner. An intelligent novel that documents the divorce of Toby and Rachel. It ruminates on the dynamics of money in a relationship, class and marriage.

I AM LISTENING TO

FUTURE NOSTALGIA by Dua Lipa. This is arguably the best pop album of 2020. Don’t Start Now and Hallucinate are the best pop songs I have heard in a long time.

According to Ofcom, around 7.1 million people listen to podcasts each week. As an earnest fan of podcasts and statistics, I thought I´d share my podcast story.

Streaming platforms have changed our consumer habits. It isn’t uncommon to ask a colleague or a relatively perfect stranger what they are watching on Netflix. We all have a series on the go. Yet, despite the rise in people listening to podcasts, I wouldn’t necessarily ask someone what podcast they were listening to. 

If it is becoming the norm that more and more of us are turning to podcasts as everyday entertainment, then I ought to converse about them more. I should ignite my curiosity the same I would with music or a book recommendation. In terms of music, I regularly share what I am listening to on social media. It is probably the only aspect of my life that I do. Podcasts, however, feel more personal.

This was how I started my induction into the landscape of the podcast world. I started with radio programmes which I already knew. Desert Island Discs, for example, allowed me to be transported if only for fifty minutes to someone else´s life. It was the audio equivalent of a good novel. No long walk would be pleasurable without the archive that the BBC has. For me, Desert Island Discs introduced me to new names or people I hadn’t really unpacked before. One of my favourite episodes was when Trevor Sorbie was the castaway. His story about how he helped cancer patients was terribly moving. Most recently, I had Rupert Everett as my audio company. I almost stopped and cried when he chose Being Boring by the Pet Shop Boys as the disc he would save. I do believe that my love for podcasts comes from a need for company. Hearing voices, laughter and conversation amid the minutiae makes one feel less alone. 

The listening pleasure doesn’t stop at just the content. Like a book, although sometimes I am influenced by the honest reviews on Goodreads, podcasts don’t come with this innate obligation to share one´s opinion.

There are, of course, social media platforms in which listeners can comment on episodes and I find that for many people, that is an important aspect of being part of the conversation. Podcasts, like the radio, seem to transport me back to a world when one wasn’t saturated with relentless information. I see them as a form of entertainment that compliments a walk or a household chore or even as background noise to punctuate a lazy Sunday. 

Podcasts have also been a perfect distraction from both boredom and the inevitable travel sickness I feel on long bus journeys. A seven-hour bus journey up to Madrid was made possible thanks to Jessie Ware and her mum´s podcast Table Manners. Each episode is a hilarious serving of conversation and anecdotes whilst tying everything up in a culinary ribbon. Last year whilst on holiday in Asturias, a bus journey plagued with curves and country roads made me feel the most nauseous I have ever felt on a bus. What helped? A dose of Fearne Cotton´s

Happy Place podcast and the Is it just me? podcast with magazine editor Jo Elvin. Throughout these otherwise boring moments when reading a book would have been impossible, podcasts came to the rescue. 

My podcast recommendations:

1. Table Manners with Jessie and Lennie Ware

2. The entire Desert Island Discs archive

3. How to fail with Elizabeth Day

4. The science of success

5. Is it just me? with Jo Elvin and James Williams

6. Fortunately with Fi and Jane

7. Ramblings a BBC podcast (The David Sedaris episode is a must)

8. Happy place with Fearne Cotton

9. Stuff you missed in history class

10. The 21s century creative

PHILLIP SCHOFIELD COMING OUT

As a TV presenter, Schofield is a constant representation of trust. He is in our living rooms; we watch him and have our breakfast in the interim. It is not only a courageous act of honesty on his part, but he has also consolidated his trust in his audience. It made me ruminate on my coming out process, which can’t be defined as something singular, as for LGBTQ people, the act of coming out is a daily task.

Close to Christmas last year, I was made straight by a customer at work. I talked about my Christmas plans saying that half of my break would be spent with my partner’s family. He then asked me the question “Is she Spanish?”. At that moment, I had to correct him. I had to say, “Yes, he is Spanish”. I probably didn’t emphasise the ‘he’ out of politeness. Arguably this is a generational issue and the man I mentioned hadn’t intended to offend or patronise me. For millennials, it is difficult for us to think in such a heteronormative way, but for a heterosexual guy in his fifties who knows very few gay people, it is a different narrative altogether. 

As a community, there is no formula when it comes to coming out. We can’t rely on verbatim as every situation requires a different approach. It is the year 2020, nevertheless one is never sure how another person will react.

Using social media or the platform of mass media with responsibility is undeniably brave. Recently the make-up artist Nikki Tutorials came out as trans and it rendered me emotional. Communication and honesty are the ingredients that audiences crave from their vanguards. An erasure of the barriers which is only heightened through the influence of social media. 

Seeing Phillip Schofield do it on live TV is a way to advocate other people to come out. It is still important to champion individuals who have overcome the fear, the shame and all the other myriad emotions that have prevented themselves from being who they truly are. Additionally, it is a testament to see how far our social landscape has changed. Would this have happened as little as 20 years ago? People may not agree with my overzealous take on this, but any glimpse of hope for the LGBTQ community always warrants some kind of celebration. 

WHO IS JULIO?

I was at a wedding recently when one of the guests had mistaken me as a man called Julio. As soon as he made the mistake, I did correct him. He eventually told me how he was so desperate to see Julio. How Julio has just received an exciting new promotion at work and has moved to Barcelona. I smirked back to the table where my partner was sat and told him. There I was grinning like a child at being mistaken for someone else. It did leave me with the lingering question though, who is Julio?

THIS MONTH

I AM READING

GRAND UNION by Zadie Smith. Smith’s first short collection is indeed a treat for her fans. She effortlessly references north London and her short story; Lazy River is the reality of the Brexit referendum.

I AM WATCHING

NEXT IN FASHION what started off as something to have on in the background has turned into a full-on obsession. I have a secret style crush on Tan France and I fell in love with both Angel and Minju instantly. 

THE ALBUM DIARY/2005/MUSIC/MEMOIR

A rather romantic look at what Supernature, Goldfrapp’s most commercial album means to me, fifteen years later.

My album diary 2005: Supernature by Goldfrapp

By 2005, Goldfrapp had become my favourite band. When their second album, Black Cherry, was released, I was hooked on electronic music. I was also hooked on their song titles, Hairy Trees and Deep Honey to give you an idea. It was their song Strict Machine that caught my eye before my ears. I remember saying to my brother “Martin, they’ve got a song called Strict Machine, really?”. I couldn’t quite believe it. Goldfrapp’s songs have always contained a strong visual message. Similar to Prince or Kate Bush, this relentless poetic mystery in a song’s title. An attention-grabbing promise. Something theatrical in a pop landscape.

For Christmas last year, I was given a limited-edition purple vinyl of Black Cherry. The same brother who got me into Goldfrapp reminded me that this year is the twentieth anniversary of the band’s debut, Felt Mountain. As I return to listen to a group which punctuated my late teenage years, my early twenties and now mid-thirties, I realised how imbued their music is with memories. Even though Supernature isn’t my favourite Goldfrapp album, I can’t deny how significant 2005 was. An album which became the official soundtrack to probably the most exciting part of my life. Turning eighteen and heading to university to study English.

Supernature was spearheaded by the glam rock throb of the lead single, Ooh La La. It flirted with Bolan’s slap on vocals with a video to rival the 70s band. It possessed both a British eccentricity whilst slipping in a reference to Baudelaire. French poets aside, it sounded like an after-party to Black Cherry. A binge of Numan- sounding synths on Slide In and Koko. How both Goldfrapp and Gregory are erudite songwriters thanks to the melodies of Ride A White Horse and Fly Me Away. To the romantic yet lascivious ‘howl under the moon’ lyric in Number 1.

It was an album that my friends grew to love. As we all started our university degrees in our native Manchester, we were discovering a side to our hometown which was new to us all, its nightlife. After a month of starting university, Manchester introduced itself to a melting pot of dive bars, underground discos and an alternative scene that made us reject the mainstream nocturnal playground. The problem with many places in Manchester was that they were trying to emulate the past. The result was a carbon copy of the Madchester era. Knowing that there were clubs playing electroclash and an alternative to ‘funky house’ that was monopolising the gay clubs.

One club night, in particular, was Tramp. Tramp was held at the Bierkeller, a now-obsolete venue in Piccadilly. I remember walking past it and thinking how rough it looked from the outside. Little did I know it would be the place where I would discover so many iconic and important songs that designed my youth.

The club itself had a pretentious quality about it. In a pre-Instagram era, it was the eyes of Manchester’s fashionable scenesters who instantly decided whether you were cool or not. It was also a place where I saw people taking drugs for the first time. Opening my eyes to another layer of the clandestine world.

At 18, I was still finding out what my personal style was. I had grown my hair in 2004, so I must have looked as if I was trying to look ‘indie’. As 2005 progressed, I chopped my hair off and started to style it with a quiff. Thanks to my dear friend Jenny, who was studying a degree in fashion, I discovered vintage clothes and that changed everything.

Clothes made me confident. Clothes made feel like I could say something. I didn’t feel attractive, I didn’t feel that people fancied me. Clothes connected me to the music and that was my main goal at that age. 

After many nights at Tramp, it began to feel like our place. I’ll never forget how the dancefloor was empty until they played Being Boiled by The Human League. From that song, our fate was in the hands of the DJs from Tramp. They were earnest when it came to electronic music. I knew a little about bands, but as you have read from my previous album diaries, I felt like a pop kid still. I may have been dancing to obscure 14-minute remixes of the group Can, but I was listening to Madonna on the way to university with my hangover the next day.

My Supernature journey dominated my first term at university. I became less and less interested in my studies and more attracted to music. I began to frequent music shops across Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Places like Piccadilly Records and Vinyl Exchange, spending my money on anything that had synthesisers. I never pretended to know about music. I would always ask the Bob Dylan music snobs who worked there if an album was “really electronic”. Very few would react, mostly with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders.

I now had three Goldfrapp albums and also their visual trajectory too. Yet, she needs no introduction whatsoever, my ultimate muse was Alison Goldfrapp herself. I love the imagery and art direction for the Supernature era. The Marlene Dietrich inspired poses, the relentless jumpsuits and not to forget that strange phallic-looking image in the Supernature album booklet. 

I was drawn to her strength. I was drawn to her outstanding repertoire as a vocalist. I was drawn to her contrarian disposition in interviews. She was an idol of mine. She still is, but now I appreciate her more, a sort of teacher/student relationship. Back then, however, I wanted to be her. 

Jenny and I went to see the Supernature tour live. It was a standing gig at the Manchester Apollo and, as two formidable fans would have been, we got to the front. I was curious to see if the crowd would be dressed like a Goldfrapp fan. I mean, I wasn’t expecting something as elaborate as a horse’s head, but I was expecting something theatrical. What I did notice was a more mainstream crowd. Writing that sentence makes me slightly nauseous as I sound terribly arrogant. Before Alison appeared on stage, I thought to myself how people were here simply for Ooh La La.

Supernature wasn’t my album, it was everybody’s. I did take real pleasure in seeing many bored faces as she opened with Utopia. A pugnacious look planted itself on my face thinking that these new Goldfrapp fans aren’t going to know this song. Every time she and her band performed an album track or a song from Black Cherry or Felt Mountain, Jenny and I screamed with joy. We wanted to prove to Alison that we were genuine fans.

Alison possessed a strength that rendered you weak at the knees. Whilst she was performing Satin Chic, I still claim to this day that she looked directly at us, before providing us with a grimace only she could make look sexy. I have tried to copy it many times. Let’s not go into that.

It was my first Goldfrapp concert. It was one of my first concerts at the Manchester Apollo. In retrospect, Supernature has played such an instrumental role in my coming of age story. To write this piece, I revisited the album and all its glorious moments. I even unpacked this era further by listening to the B side All Night Operator. To this day I still believe that it should have made the album. I also think the live studio version to Ride A White Horse remains unsurpassed in the world of electro-pop. I can only end this piece how Alison would, so cheers!. 

I’m learning to accept that we are leaving the EU, notice how I’m using the progressive tense there.

I went back to the UK twice last year. The first visit was back to my hometown of Manchester. On the one hand, it might seem like something insignificant, but it wasn’t, I hadn’t been back in a decade. As you can imagine I was plagued with nerves, apprehension and also excitement. It felt easier going back with my partner. Inspired by the fact I was going to show him the place that moulded me for the bulk of my life. There was comfort in returning with this Spanish identity, a type of cultural talisman to protect me, from what I don’t know.

Brexit has ostracised me. Its relentless presence over the past three and half years hasn’t helped. I had no idea how I would have felt going back to the UK. I had become fearful of Brexit. I still am in a less irrational way; I know that sounds contradictory. This was heightened by the HBO series Years and Years, a dystopian portrait of a post-Brexit Britain. Ironically, it followed the lives of a Mancunian family, making me somewhat sandwiched being fact and fiction. It also made the issue hit home harder.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have returned with such a narrow-minded view. I had anticipated a hostile response to me and my partner speaking Spanish in public places. What I found was the complete opposite. Why did I not have faith in the city that has been the foundation for who I am today?

I didn’t feel as strange as I thought I would have done. I encouraged a feeling of cockiness as I still knew all the shortcuts around the city. Meaning I was able to avoid the saturation of Market Street. I embraced the uniform of drizzle, the perpetual danger of being hit by a tram and the warm sexiness of the accent. I slotted back into the Mancunian that I am.

As well as finding these novel pearls that most Mancunians would take for granted, I was able to see my closest friends. Conversations over dinner that only touched the tip of the political iceberg. Brexit was present, but not as much as I thought it would be. Discussing politics with friends is healthy, and in my case, I am fortunate because empathy always wins.

Seeing Manchester through the eyes of my other half made me realise how much I love England. This is what the ‘Brexit effect’ has had on me. I have been so against us leaving the European Union since the moment the idea was simply a conspiracy theory, I have somehow allowed my anger towards Brexit overtake my love for the country.

Being back in Manchester and eventually spending Christmas in Sussex silenced the noise that Brexit was making. As a consequence, I am learning to accept that we are leaving the EU, notice how I am using the progressive tense there. Returning to Spain with the prescription of both Manchester, time on the Sussex coast and being spoilt with days out to myriad villages across Sussex and Kent, I was determined to start 2020 with some optimism. Call it a New Year´s resolution. Call it an attempt at creating my own mental filter. I no longer desire to be shackled by my upset of us leaving the EU.

However, my new-fangled optimism hasn’t lasted long, and I am once again indignant. It seems that the possibility of Big Ben ringing at 11 PM on the 31st December has been thwarted and thank God it has. Firstly, the fact that it was going to cost over 500,000 pounds should be enough to deter such an unnecessary endeavour. Yet, for me, I admit, I speak from the viewpoint of a remainer; the whole notion of celebrating our departure seems distasteful.

Regardless of how you voted in the 2016 referendum, I don’t see how celebrating something that only brings uncertainty for so many people is a positive thing. For EU citizens who live in the UK, punctuating this event as a celebration is already excluding them. It seems that now there will be a light show and a countdown projected on the walls of the House of Parliament. I still see this approach as not just rubbing salt into one´s ideological wounds, but somewhat disrespectful. I always ask people who voted to leave, how would you feel if you were a foreigner in the UK? Not to mention the hypocrisy of how the Prime Minister wants to reduce the chasm among remainers and leavers. One ought to get used to this revival of patriotism. The light show is simply Boris´s ego illuminated. The affirmation that he has fulfilled his promise to ´get Brexit done´ which is what the public voted for in the last election. 

I am not patriotic, but I am proud of the fact that I am British. Perhaps for more personal motives like custard creams, fig rolls, the nuances of the language, our musical history and not to mention the pride I feel for being a northerner. This is the UK that I show to my partner. The UK that I miss. The UK that exists behind the monster that is Brexit.

THIS MONTH

I AM READING

FRANKISSTEIN by Jeanette Winterson. A modern reboot of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Winterson explores artificial intelligence, the creation of Shelley’s Frankenstein and somehow ties it all together with an insatiable love story.

I AM LISTENING TO

The podcast how did we get there ? with Claudia Winkleman. I champion anything that highlights the importance of mental health.