Punch Me Like You Mean It (Sir)

Last Weds -  I attend a Victorian boxing event at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. I’m there as the guest of Heather M, aka Crimson Skye. She and her fellow burlesque performer Diva Hollywood are there  to strut around the ring in naughty ensembles, holding up cards to announce the next round. This means they have to sit right at the side of the boxing ring for quick access, and as H’s guest I get to sit with them. So I have an actual ringside seat.

The audience, hosts and live acts are all decked out in Victorian costume: lots of refugees from Dickens adaptations in bowlers, top hats, braces, ladies in big music hall frilly dresses with those miniature hats on the side of their heads. Men in impressively groomed moustaches both real (specially grown?) and stuck on. There’s an escapologist in chains who also does a spot of bullet catching, and Whitechapel sing-a-longs with song sheets (‘Roll Out The Barrel’, ‘Down By The Old Bull & Bush’ and so on). A pianist plays versions of the ‘Rocky’ theme in a tinkly, vamping music hall style.

I don’t know anyone in the audience, but by the looks and sounds of things it’s a curious mix. Some are middle or even upper class, out for a dressed up jolly wheeze (it’s a charity event – there’s £100 tickets in a VIP area). The lady at the table next to me has a cut glass Celia Johnson accent. She tells me she’d never have managed to get into her vintage corset if if weren’t for her ‘assistant’. Others are East End locals with a sense of heritage, always ready with historical facts about this Spitalfields building or that Bethnal Green pub. There’s even a few pensioners, who know all the words to the music hall singalongs, of course, and who join in sincerely rather through any prism of kitsch.

I’m reminded of Louis Armstrong’s version of ‘Cabaret’: a singer from the 1930s, recording a 1960s pastiche of a 1930s style. Likewise Sinatra’s ‘New York New York’ – a late 70s pastiche of a Sinatra-type 40s style. How levels of pastiche can be cancelled out when reflected through their own subject.

Another aspect of this Victorian dress-up evening where levels of knowingness can have no place is the actual boxing. Although the combatants are volunteers, many of whom have no boxing experience whatsoever, they’ve been given a small amount of professional training. Each man has to wear those very non-Victorian modern helmets to protect his head, and arrives with two proper boxing coaches at his side, wearing very 2008 gym tracksuits. Meanwhile the referee – who slightly resembles Ralph Fiennes, much to Ms H’s delight – meets the occasion halfway in a plain white dinner shirt and black suit trousers. As the evening goes on, his shirt becomes flecked with blood.

There’s five bouts during the evening, all of which are incredibly exciting on a very visceral and non-ironic level, particularly from my close-up view. I make myself useful by judging the best moment for my burlesque lady friends to enter the ring and hold up their ‘Round 2’ placards. ‘Not yet – wait for them to sit down… I’ll hand you your placard when you’re in… Take your time – the guy with the bell isn’t going to start the next round till you’re off…At least, I think so…’

And I always love the things people in the audience shout on these occasions, often thinking of a phrase which sounds good, then just repeating it:

‘Go for a body shot! Go for a body shot! Oh…. great body shot! He really knows his body shots.’

Or better still:

‘Hit him!’

At half time, plates of pie and mash are served by hostesses in Moulin Rouge grab. So the night has something of a unique aroma: blood, sweat and pies.

Tags: , , ,

The All Pincushion Flouncing Match

Whenever I see an advert for a spectacles company, with a cheekboney lady in a power suit, hair up, and looking happy with her choice of eyewear to the point of madness, I now think of Sarah Palin. So that’s how pernicious the UK coverage of the US elections has become. Goodness knows what it must be like for Americans, if the British media alone is this saturated with comment and debate on Mr Obama, Mr McCain and their ‘running mates’, families, pets, and favourite choice of hunting rifle. Ignorance and lack of US nationality is no hindrance to comment, of course. And here I am joining in. Bait taken.

It seems odd to obsess so much over another country’s politics, even the US, when there’s more than enough to focus on over here. I just wish they’d concentrate more on, say, Caroline Lucas, who was recently elected Green Party leader. At least British newspaper readers can actually vote for her.

The general switch of focus from Mr O to Ms P seems less about ability to govern and more about appealing to people’s lust for a good story, with interesting characters. Ms Palin is a Good Character in this distant soap opera, so everyone perks up. On Radio 4’s News Quiz, mention of her name is given a sound effects burst from the Hallelujah Chorus, such is her gift to overseas satirists. If Mr O loses to Mr McC, or rather to Ms P, perhaps it’s because he’s just not funny enough, intentionally or otherwise. See also Boris Johnson.


Sunday last: afternoon tea at High Tea in Highgate, with Ms Crimson Skye, whom I first met in the Cabaret Tent at the Latitude Festival. High Tea is a new local haunt: homemade cakes, Doris Day and Cole Porter playing on the stereo, friendly young staff with a taste for old things. Right up my street in every sense. It’s popular today: there’s the sense it’s the Last Sunny Sunday of the year, so everyone is out in the cafes and parks. All the Sunday Couples, or in my case, the Couples Of Singles.

Then a drink in St John’s Tavern, Archway, now a trendy but pleasant restaurant & bar with chunky oak tables and a selection of broadsheet supplements by the beer pumps. A world away from the dingy pub in 1993 where Orlando played their early gigs.

And then to Ms Andrei’s flat in Upper Holloway for dinner and a movie. The Magic Toyshop: a rare 80s TV film of the Angela Carter novel. Adapted by the author, so it’s full of deliciously surreal, dream-like moments which a normal TV screenwriter would have cut for fear of confusing the audience. Has a creepy puppet swan and a creepier Tom Bell.

A Thursday past: the Boogaloo for Beautiful & Damned, with me DJ-ing there for the first time since I’d left the club night in Miss Red’s hands. Martin White and his Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra play a fantastic set (with Kate Dornan on tuba), and the bar is decked out in a Victorian Circus theme, complete with straw, bunting, an Unhelpful Fortune Teller booth, and lots of people in stick-on moustaches.

One lady is dressed up as a half-man, half-woman, with one gender on each side. I half chat her up, half-heartedly. My old neighbour and room decorator Liz also comes along and has such a nice time that she leaves a thank-you present outside my door: a little bejewelled make-up mirror, wrapped in ribbon and paper.


A recent Friday eve – outing to an art show with various Boogaloo associates (Nat, Red, Julia, Ms Annie S, Mr Russell, The General). Venue is a dusty Victorian house in the Kings Cross Road, formerly the shop Hats Plus. The old awning is still in place, still advertising the hat shop’s now-defunct website. Even website addresses can gather dust these days. I teach the word ‘awning’ to two Swedish women.

That Saturday eve – I Dj at the Magic Theatre event, at the Art Deco Bloomsbury Ballroom. Venue is outrageously plush and ornate, and I enjoy Ms Crimson Skye’s burlesque turn on the stage. She sings the Patsy Cline song ‘Crazy’ in a Texan drawl, while stripping from a Hannibal Lecter grill mask and straitjacket, her arms tied behind her back.  There’s also a Dexy’s-esque band with a full brass section, who cover the 80s song ‘Hey You, The Rocksteady Crew’.

Late in the evening, with much wine consumed, two men dressed as what looks like giant pincushions take part in an impromptu Flouncing Competition, on the dance floor. They each spin on their plimsolls and storm off in a camp huff to the nearest exit, their huge costumes bobbing around them. I am definitely enjoying myself.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,