I hope you managed to glean some joy from this particularly bleak midwinter.
My partner and I are not ones for traditional festive family gatherings, even though (or more frankly because) my mother starts the emotional blackmail, cajoling us to participate, around mid-September. We choose instead to escape the holiday season for foreign locations, such as Budapest, Istanbul and the south of France, or party in our favourite British getaway spot of Brighton, the ‘Gay capital of the UK’.
We have now spent enough Christmases in Brighton to have developed our own yuletide traditions. We always indulge in a gluttonous seasonal lunch at The Camelford Arms (on Christmas Eve) and the next day enjoy a Christmas morning promenade along the beach with an ice-cream, culminating in our first drink of the day on the terrace at Legends, overlooking the pier.
Our choice of dinner on the big day itself is far more ad hoc, depending on what is open on the 25th of December. We have had curry, Turkish grill, fried chicken and chips and, once, frog’s legs from a Chinese restaurant. Well, I’ve always liked a leg at Christmas, so I figured. Why not have a dozen?
Another tradition we enjoy is the annual Christmas extDRAGaganza at the Bedford Tavern. One year, we were fortunate enough to secure the sofa situated in the bay window directly next to the small performance area. We made ourselves comfortable with our elderly dog curled up between us. She ignored the bustle of the busy bar and dozed contentedly… until the tall, bearded, drag performer bound onto stage with a fanfare, in full, bright green, Grinch makeup and a baby-doll Santa outfit. The dog sat bolt upright and stared fixatedly at this spectacle, cocking her head inquisitively every time he gestured or shimmied. Before I could stop her, she slinked off the sofa and trotted over to the stage to inspect this character closer. She gave him a few curious sniffs then sprawled out, full length, at his high heeled feet. I made a move to retrieve her, but the performer indicated that it was all fine and so there she stayed, faintly snoring, until the interval, when she sculked off to a quiet spot for the remainder of the night. When we eventually retrieved the dog, she was slumped under a table covered in party-popper ribbons. Oh well, we’ve all ended a night like that.
The dog was a big hit that evening, which is more than can be said for the following afternoon when she disgraced herself by pissing on a carpet of fake turf at the centre of a display of artisan soaps in full sight of a nonplussed shop assistant.
I had been distracted at the time by a tasteless pink Range Rover idling at a pedestrian crossing.
Who would drive something like that? I thought, moments before registering Katie Price sat behind the wheel, with a severe Botox Barbie scowl that looked like it had been drawn on with a Sharpie.
It was the same vehicle that this faded glamour model would go on to throw-up in and lose to repossession after being arrested for drink driving. She’s one classy dame.
We have always found the Brighton gay scene extremely friendly, although this is probably because of the time of year that we visit, when everyone is full of the Christmas spirit… and tanked up to the eyeballs!
As far as gay venues go, I particularly like the compact Marine Tavern, with its dusky wooden panelling, a pub so narrow that you have to breath in every time you traverse the length of the bar; I also like the high camp of Bar Broadway, with live cabaret and a medley of movie musical numbers on constant loop of the televisions doted around the walls; but it was Affinity Bar that really went all out for Christmas (although I think it went by a different name back then). They used to close for several days at the start of December just so they could decorate… to gaudy excess. Every inch of the venue was decked with tinsel, baubles, streamers, ornaments, glitterballs and shiny knickknacks. This bedazzling grotto was like staring directly into the heart of a mushroom cloud… or how I like to imagine Liberace’s downstairs lavatory.
We were in this glittering venue one night, when the Theatre Royal emptied out and audience members from that evening’s performance of The Rocky Horror Shop descended on the place.
One dashing lad, dressed in nothing but a snug pair of gold lame trucks, showed off his moves and physique on the small dancefloor, but lost balance and tottered toward the lavishly adorned fir tree. My partner swiftly reached out and caught him in his arms just as he was about to tumble, near naked, into the tree’s pine needle covered branches. This act of heroism made quite an impression on the young Rocky impersonator, who took to my partner like a newly hatched gosling imprinting on the first thing it sees. I insisted that the pair had their photo taken together at the end of the night. I have never seen my partner look happier.
Later, I was approached by a straight couple and the girlfriend asked me if I would look after her boyfriend while she went to the toilet, as it was his first time in a gay bar, and he was nervous about being left alone. I looked trustworthy apparently.
While she was gone, a drunk woman barrelled over and enthused about what a lovely couple abandoned boyfriend and I made and how she could see that we were devoted to each other, much to his discomfort.
“That’s lovely of you to say,” I thanked her, reaching for his hand. “He’s the bottom.”
One year, I decided to pose for a special Xmas photo to the nation on Brighton’s famous nudist beach.
I had never been before, but a friend had told me a story about how they had been flashed by some guy there once, much to the amusement of the local police when they phoned to report the incident.
“They didn’t take it seriously at all,” I was told with indignation. “The officer I spoke to just told me to “Hold for a moment” and the line went silent. When the sound resumed, I could hear gales of laughter.”
The desk sergeant had clearly put them on mute to call out across the station that someone was reporting a flasher on the nudist beach.
At the photoshoot, I quickly whipped off my clothes and dropped them on the shingle, posed facing out to sea, to catch a relatively modest photo that was suitable for social media, then redressed.
“Hurry up, there are people coming,” my partner warned, and I glanced up to see two girls, both wearing hijabs, approaching. “They are going to see!”
“That’s very kind of you,” I replied, “but really they’re not… especially in this weather!”
Christmastide this year was a low-key affair with just the two off us at home. We cooked turkey with all the trimmings (no frog’s legs this time), but as we didn’t get the bird in the oven until after 5.30 in the evening, we were in danger of having our Christmas dinner for Boxing Day breakfast. We eventually opted for late night turkey baps… and devoured the full meal at 10.30pm on the 26th. Maybe this could become our new tradition?