Back in England....
Having survived my reckless trip to New York, where I could easily have ended up dead at the hands of a crazy stranger in a sleazy hotel room – but didn't – I returned home to find things the same as I'd left them. That is to say I still had the same life that I had before, in spite of my exciting time out, coming out, in the Big Apple, discovering myself and who I am.
As an aside perhaps, I have to tell you that anyone who claims there is no God is lying. He is there, but not in those happy-clappy churches or austere places of worship. He is in the gritty streets of cities where those who are at the lowest point in their lives or in search of solace, might find Him. The lucky ones, like me, will pull through, God might reach out through a stranger's kindness or a fleeting smile from someone in the crowd. Such encounters can change a life. But it takes a leap of faith to get there in the first place. My rash trip to New York had proved to me that part of the responsibility in changing our lives does in fact lie with ourselves and our will to take a chance, even if it seems risky...
I had pushed on through a difficult few years, experienced the lowest of lows and heartache, collecting scars on the way - and just about made it back into the light.
Many don't get that chance and the world is a poorer and less beautiful place because of the ones who left too soon, often beaten down by the prejudice of those who would rather see them perish than admit that individuality and difference can be the best thing in the whole world.
Intolerance - and missionaries again....
During the time that I was targeted by missionaries, I witnessed vile reactions from them to anything gay. There was a real hatred towards homosexuality and a very vocal and irrational intolerance of gay people. The twisted interpretation of scripture that these people preached was manipulated to justify their prejudice and fuel their own fears. It was precisely due to this propaganda, which is still rife in these cultish pseudo-religious groups, that many young gay people committed suicide. Although I escaped from the clutches of that nasty world, my heart sinks when I think of those who didn't. And how many people were pushed into 'straight' marriages through fear of being outcast by those who they thought cared about them. Personally I have a very big problem with those who set out to preach their dubious morals to others. That 'be like us or be sent to hell' message is vile. Playing on the fear and insecurities of the vulnerable and scared, it is so far away from the truth and so very very cruel.
Off to Israel, Jason in Jerusalem (and Tel Aviv)...
So, anyway, after New York, it was time to begin living as a gay man in my world and hopefully on my terms. This was going to be the most difficult time of all in some ways because, even though I was ready, some people around me would not be ready to accept the man they had known for over thirty years suddenly coming out as a different person. So to many of those in my life, I remained firmly in the closet with the door closed, only coming out in the dark hours after the sun had set.
I dipped my toe in the local scene, had some awkward encounters here and there but decided that I had more lessons to learn before emerging as a fully transformed 'butterfly' and that these lessons might best be learnt away from home.
That's how I found myself in Israel. Coming out was certainly involving a lot of travel....but at least I was doing it on a budget.
My Grandmother knew Israel well and had often urged me to visit. A courageous and amazing woman, not content with seeing images of people suffering on the news, she had in her 70's packed her bags and set off for Israel to work as a volunteer in a hospital for several months. I realise now that she must have known I would benefit from seeing a diverse society where everyday life was lived on the edge of danger – but ultimately successfully. A metaphor for my life at that time perhaps.
The time felt right. I had read that Tel Aviv was very gay friendly and so I made the first of several visits to that vibrant city. Initially I was still very self-conscious, so I would walk up and down the long streets past gay bars and clubs without going in. I also travelled to Jerusalem where, perhaps ironically, I found a rare inner peace in that troubled city. It was a time of tension in Jerusalem, in the street outside my modest hotel there had been a bus bombing a week or so earlier and there were still signs of the attack in the damaged pavements and roads. In the Old City I was challenged by a very angry man in the Arab quarter, an unsettling confrontation which was only diffused by another man who realised I wasn't a threat but just a bewildered tourist in the wrong place. Everybody was eyeing everybody with suspicion and on occasion tension flared into loud confrontation. If there was a gay scene in Jerusalem then it was well hidden. So, as is the tradition, I wrote a prayer on a small piece of paper, pushed it into a crack in the Western Wall, then got on the bus and headed back to Tel Aviv.
Surreal life in the park, Dana International and finally home....
Independence Park in Tel Aviv, not far from the Hilton hotel, is well known as a gay meeting area. It is a surreal place, Orthodox Jewish families glide along the paths on sociable walks in the park, while gay men sit on benches overlooking the sea – or meet and mingle in the bushes... Despite the apparently sleazy gay underworld in the undergrowth and the stark contrast between two very different lifestyles, the gay scene and the Orthodox world managed to exist alongside one another with some kind of tolerance in spite of their differences. I found this refreshing, it seemed at least on the surface that worlds could collide or co-exist without causing a whole load of fall-out. And that resonated loudly with me. My two worlds were in the process of colliding and I had no idea what to expect.
Not having learnt any lessons from the dire Malibu Hostel experience in NYC (see my earlier post), I had again booked a budget hotel for my trip to Tel Aviv via the internet because, well, it was an affordable option in what was quite an expensive city. But this time it worked out very well. The Hotel Ami was surviving, just about, being squeezed in between the brash developments of Crown Plazas and Radissons near the sea front in the city. A slightly crumbling, shabby exterior and a dated but comfortable interior made for a pleasant and central base from which to explore. The staff were friendly and I got to know them quite well over three stays in as many years. I always felt they knew about me and my journey and they smiled at me and were kind. Kindness really does mean so much.
One day I plucked up enough courage to spruce myself up as best I could and take a trip to the nearby Independence Park. I'd read all about it prior to my first visit. It was, as I mentioned earlier, the place where gay men would meet. It was famously, I was told, the place that Israeli transsexual singer Dana International had frequented prior to becoming an international Eurovision sensation, the first transsexual to win the legendary song contest back in the 1990's. Dana was a real ground-breaker and, very importantly, a signal from Israel to the world that it was a country where LGBT people would be welcomed.
I'll save the tales of my encounters in the park for another time (or a book!) but suffice it to say that it was an enlightening experience.
Every evening I would email my friend T (the chap I met in New York) from the computer in the hotel lobby. He was now one of my best and most trusted friends. He told me that he was living his own life vicariously through me which felt like quite a responsibility on my part but actually my life was turning into a real roller coaster so I knew he would not be disappointed.
My meetings with gay men in Israel were interesting. It is estimated that 25% of people in Tel Aviv identify as gay, so the scene is lively, diverse and visible.
But I did have to return to England....
Back home again and still not out to most family and friends, I was reluctant to be too visible too soon. So I went back online. The internet was awash with gay 'dating' sites. Although I was very much out of my comfort zone, it was what I had to do in order to meet people. I was not yet part of the 'scene'. And very many of us weren't. Looking back, I realise that there were thousands of scared gay men out there, locally, who were just too afraid to be seen.
I was not going to be one of them. I didn't want to be scared for the rest of my life. The time had come to show my face.....
Being a dog lover and the very proud owner of a 14½ year old rescue dog, Ozzie, I am always interested in hearing about those who devote their time, often their whole lives, to saving animals and generally being kind to the creatures in this, often less than hospitable, world.
Ozzie was already nine years old when we found him in a pen at the dog's home. Although we saw many people admiring his rather elegant poise and handsome stature, as soon as they spotted his age they moved on. It's the main reason we chose him because we knew that if we didn't adopt him then the likelihood was that he would spend the rest of his life in a pen. And of course he has proved to be a most loyal friend and a special member of the family.
While there are many well known big charities that raise funds to care for and re-home dogs, there is one very special charity which devotes its time to what might be considered a 'niche' market when it comes to finding new homes for less fortunate pooches and they focus their efforts on saving those dogs who don't perhaps have the same chance of rescue as their more conventional brothers and sisters.
Blind Dog Rescue UK (BDRUK), as their name suggests, raise funds to save blind and partially sighted dogs that they rescue from the shelters and streets of Europe, bringing them to the UK where they help to find them their forever homes. Many of these dogs have been abused or abandoned and have suffered immense distress in some horrible conditions. BDRUK's motto “The Kind Leading The Blind” really sums up their ethic and the amazing work that they do.
Blind Dog Rescue UK raise money to pay for veterinary fees where needed and then organise transport to bring the lucky dogs to the UK where they settle into foster homes and await adoption by a kind new owner.
As BDRUK explain, “We rescue the most vulnerable dogs who have been subjected to the worst of humanity yet still have an astonishing capacity to adapt, love and become perfect ambassadors for blind dogs everywhere....the dogs in our care are victims of abuse, neglect, disease or trauma. Many are struggling to survive in shelters, tethered on short chains, or straying on the streets in countries where there is no infrastructure for animal welfare or animal rescue....”
It's a unique and special organisation and deserves a whole load of support and publicity, which is why I'm writing about them here. If sharing their details here can help to find even one blind dog a good home them I will feel very happy indeed.
And don't be too worried about the practicalities of caring for a blind dog, BDRUK's website has some helpful information that will reassure you – blind dogs, whether partially sighted or entirely blind, are very adaptable and can live life to the full – and they can be the most loving and companionable dogs who enrich the lives of their owners beyond words.
BDRUK point out that “No matter how it seems or feels...your dog's blindness is much harder on you than it is for him/her! Eye sight ranks only 3rd in importance compared to smell and hearing to your dog.”
To see their current list of dogs needing foster homes or forever homes just take a look at the details on their new website:- https://www.bdruk.org/adopt
Or if you cannot offer a home then please do consider making a donation so that the good folks at Blind Dog Rescue UK can continue their excellent work, saving these wonderful dogs from some terrible conditions.
You can even sponsor a dog, knowing that you are helping to provide loving and caring support for a dog in need.
When the inevitable happens (though hopefully not for a long long time!) and our Ozzie ups and leaves us for his journey across that rainbow bridge, then I am sure we will be looking at adopting a dog from Blind Dog Rescue UK, just take a look at the faces of those lovely dogs looking for a home on BDRUK's website and I know you'll be tempted to offer a kind and caring home too.....
To make a donation: click here: https://www.bdruk.org/donate
You can sponsor a dog here: https://www.bdruk.org/sponsor
This poem arrived in stages, I finally completed it today.
I hope that it says what it needs to say - to whoever needs to hear it.
Happiness and peace of mind
were only for the few.
My faith was seldom quite so blind
as when I wished for you.
To follow in a righteous way
and walk into the sun,
to find new rainbows every day
and stars when day was done.
To read the books that soothe the mind,
and savour every word.
To look for rhymes we'd never find
and sounds we've never heard.
So I wrote a song of love for you,
I wanted you to sing,
the tune, though flawed, is one we knew,
I gave you everything.
From earth below to skies above,
I knew you from the start.
I met you in my dreams, my love.
You live within my heart.
© Jason Endfield 2017 All rights reserved
This week the newspapers triumphantly announced that we can all once again eat cod without feeling any guilt. Cod had been so overfished in recent years that stocks were dangerously low and it was no longer considered sustainable, that is to say it was not breeding quickly enough to replenish its numbers. Now it seems that, due to stricter quotas in cod fishing in recent years, the cod population has recovered.
So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and once again eat our fish and chips or fish fingers without any guilt, just like the newspapers this week told us, right?
Well, no not right.
With a little bit of research, I've discovered that amongst the other fish and sealife that is regularly scooped up by fishing vessels along with the cod (this is known as the 'bycatch') there are a number of other creatures including at least one fish species that is endangered.
I'd never heard of the Redfish before, although it is itself a popular food fish in some countries.
This is a remarkable family of fish that has many sub species, including the Golden Redfish (scientific name: Sebastes norvegicus) that can live to an astonishing 75 years of age and inhabits the deep waters of the North Atlantic.
And the future of many Redfish is under threat as they are caught partly as a bycatch casualty of cod and haddock fisheries.
A part of the problem seems to be that the various sub species of Redfish are difficult to identify and are known under a plethora of overlapping common names, leading to confusion in isolating exactly which species are being caught and which are under threat.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN for short) has placed two varieties, Acadian Redfish (S. fasciatus) and Ocean Perch (S. mentella) on its list of threatened species.
Currently categorised as 'threatened', there is only one more step on the classification ladder, that labelled 'critically endangered', before these Redfish become extinct in the wild. So if populations of these fish are not allowed to increase dramatically then this classification might suggest that they could be lost to us altogether.
The 'problem' for these placid fish is that they are slow to reproduce and grow and are also a source of food for other fish. This, together with human intervention, has put the species under pressure.
And it doesn't of course help that many species of fish, including the poor Redfish, are caught in large numbers by trawlers along with the newly 'sustainable' cod.
Although the US recently declared its population of Acadian Redfish (S. fasciatus) as 'fully rebuilt' due to conservation efforts since it was first listed as threatened, some sources say that the Atlantic population of this Redfish has declined a shocking 99% since the 1970s.
So, to sum up, please remember that it is all just a little bit too simplistic for the newspapers and television to tell us to go and eat cod guilt-free, it's not that black and white.
As you tuck into your cod and chips, bear in mind the fate of the Redfish.
Something about this whole 'sustainability' label smells very fishy indeed....
I'd never really explored the concept of reincarnation, as a theory it always seemed a little too 'convenient' to me. Not that I would disrespect in any way those for whom reincarnation was a belief. But coming back again in another body? Well, it always felt a bit too much like wishful thinking.
Yet there has always been something I never could explain and that stirs the strongest feeling in me, albeit fleeting, and it's a difficult one to describe to those who haven't felt it. It's so transient and impossible to grasp when it happens.
Sometimes when I see a scene, perhaps in a photograph, on the television or even in a dream - for me it's usually a shoreline all strewn with seaweed and rocks, (but it has also been a tiny cobbled street) - I have an overwhelming sense of knowing that place, or a place just like it.
Now it's not just a simple case of deja vu, that's something I know well and it's definitely not that, no it's something that tugs at my innermost 'gut' feelings, a surge of recognition that leads to a longing for this place I remember. A place that I have never been. And it's always puzzled me.
This has happened to me far too many times to be dismissed as a brain blip or imagination. This is a very real experience, indeed something so vivid and poignant that it produces a wave of emotion akin to going home after a long absence.
Whether this is somewhere I remember from a previous life I couldn't say of course but I think it is definitely somewhere my soul yearns to be. I like to believe I will see it and reach it and then I will know I am home. Wherever that home is.
Interesting to me is the Jewish mystical (Kabbalistic) take on the whole reincarnation thing, it's hugely complicated but basically the Kabbalah teaches that Gilgul (the 'transmigration of souls', the closest thing to reincarnation to which the scholars refer) does not involve the return of the actual person, but simply the re-using of (parts of) the soul. So these fragments of the soul are 'recycled' and each of us may have elements of other souls within us. That, it seems to me, is why we may have received memories from other lifetimes.
So the memories that I recall so intensely in these fleeting moments of recognition, when I see my coastal scene or that cobbled street, do in a way make sense to me. And I have always believed, or hoped, that one day I will arrive at this place that I remember from some other time or dimension.
And what of the faces I recall from dreams? Those people I meet and interact with in flights of the soul during sleep. Are these too fragments of some remembered time?
I have always been drawn to the sea and yet in spite of searching my whole life, I have never found the scene that I recognise and remember, the one that I can 'feel', the place my very soul seems to yearn for - that particular shoreline is so very evocative to me and the memory so strong that I know when I do arrive there it will be so completely overwhelming and so fulfilling that I will have no reason to continue, to go any further. I suppose it's my final destination. Or I may have to face the fact that the yearning will continue beyond this life, in another body, seeking, searching, remembering until such a time as the journey is done and I can stop looking.
So, for now then I suppose this wandering spirit will just remember and wonder - and hope.
Soul Flights, Dreams and the Kabbalah....
Okay, this is going to sound like a totally whacky post to some of you but I'm going to write it anyway. I was thinking about those rare dreams in which I can fly. They are the most beautiful dreams to have, always lucid, that is to say I am conscious and aware in the dream of being able to control what is going on and how the dream will play out.
When I find myself in such a dream, I can just take off at will, and then use a kind of propelling motion to travel above the trees and look down at the ground. Often I am flying over streets full of people who don't seem to be able to fly. It is a wonderful feeling of freedom.
I can remember having the flying dreams since childhood when I think I had many more of them. These days I have few but when they happen it is very enjoyable.
So I was wondering what they meant, what they are. Whether they have a deep psychological meaning, (perhaps, as the dream dictionaries will tell you, they speak of my need to take more chances in my waking life), or whether they allude to something else.
And my instinct tells me that they are a kind of a memory, or more probably an 'echo' of somewhere else I have been, or will go.
When I am flying in a dream, it seems that I can go anywhere at all, given time, but time itself is the problem.....I always wake up before I have travelled very far.
They don't feel like dreams, they don't compare to the other dreams I have which are a much less tangible and sensory experience.
So I've come to the possible and controversial conclusion that when I have one of these 'dreams', my soul is actually leaving my physical body. It's a well known theory often referred to as 'astral travel' or 'astral projection' which sounds like something from a science fiction comic strip but which is actually a phenomenon documented in cultures as widely separated as the ancient Egyptians and the Inuit. And many in between. So it isn't just a 'new age' notion or a fashionable invention, it's a known 'thing'. And if the tag 'astral projection' smacks of something a little 'out there' (which of course it literally could be in fact) then I prefer to use the term that some use for this journeying outside the body, 'soul travel'.
I was keen, being Jewish, to know whether this soul travel is recognised in Judaism. I was pleased to find that it is but it's a confusing picture. To actively pursue the pratcise is forbidden it seems but the idea of the soul exisitng separately from the body (referred to as Neshama) is acknowledged. So I would say that a lucid 'dream' that occurs without the conscious intention of the dreamer and ends up in soul travel must be some kind of natural state surely? And if it is natural and involuntary then how can it be forbidden?
Some Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) scholars warn that astral projection (as they refer to it) is 'irrelevant or a trap' and yet it doesn't seem to conflict with the idea of a soul apart from the body. I suppose the difference might be in actually consciously setting out to experience the separation. And I've also heard to the contary, that soul flight is a reward reserved only for those who have studied Kabbalah and reached a higher spiritual awareness, only then can they can engage in flights of the soul.
But still there is confusion because I am also told that in the Zohar (the major work of Jewish mysticism) it says that fifty nine of the sixty parts of our soul leave the body during sleep, so that only one part remains to sustain us physically. It doesn't say that these statistics are exclusive to those who have studied but suggests that it applies to us all. That's quite an exiciting - and scary - thought especially when there are some who maintain that while the soul is outside the body, demons can enter....
But that's folklore, isn't it?
If one accepts that soul travel is a real state of being then it raises many more questions than answers.
But regardless, I find the concept quite comforting. The very thought of being able to take off and go anywhere wihtout the limitations of the physical body is incredibly liberating – and opens the mind to the idea that anything is possible and that the possibilities are endless.
That's why I love having flying dreams. Not only do they feel amazing and freeing, they also open me up to fresh ideas, experiences and thoughts. And that might be because during the dream I have been somewhere else, a place where time doesn't exist and where freedom is the natural state of being. Maybe one day I'll find myself there and decide to stay....
Talking in my last post about 'coming out' to the music of Carole King brought up some memories of what happened after I admitted to myself that I was gay.....
I began some tentative research, being rather naïve to say the least as to what 'being gay' actually involved on a practical level. I'd seen all the stereotypes of course but somehow I didn't think I'd fit comfortably into the costumes worn by the Village People, either physically or metaphorically.
I'd grown up in a less than conventional family, more about which some other time, but nevertheless I had become, through my environment, what in the trade is called 'straight acting'. So nobody would necessarily expect from seeing me that I was gay. Of course, delve just a little deeper and my love of Abba, Hinge and Bracket and female torch singers might have given my secret away.... but for thirty odd years my taste for camp music and drag acts had not betrayed me. However, here I was, coming out fast and not knowing quite what to do.
I soon felt like a character of two halves. I was leading a double life which was a real juggling act - daytime acting the straight role and night time playing a different part, drinking in gay bars and exploring the often seedy night-life – but gradually, as I came to terms with my identity, I found myself more of a one dimensional being.
Until I remembered, I do have a second identity - I'm Jewish.
Targeted by missionaries...
My Judaism was something I had returned to recently, though it had never gone away just retreated to the background while I sorted myself out.
But before I had fully started to acknowledge my true identity and travel the new road I found myself on, Christian missionaries had swooped in on me. They perceived me to be an easy target as I wandered around, appearing for all the world, to be a lost soul. A nightmare followed as they proceeded to use all the manipulative tactics they knew to force me to 'befriend Jesus' and 'save myself', though from what exactly I was saving myself I never did find out. The bizarre experience proved to be a turning point in my life eventually but not the one they had in mind for me. While they raised their hands to the sky, praising and beholding as they went, I watched nonplussed at their odd ways and less than honest attempts at 'conversion'. That's all a tale for another day but suffice it to say that I extricated myself from their hold and ran back to Judaism without turning back.
And finally I began to fully embrace who I truly am.
So it was that I found myself Jewish and gay, 'twice blessed' some call it, though at the time it didn't necessarily feel like a blessing, more like another complication in an already confusing life.
A Friendly Stranger...
I turned to a website called Gayjews. The title said all I needed to know. They had a picture on their rudimentary website of a friendly looking Jewish granny who promised to find someone nice for me. I took the plunge, it was free after all. I signed up, though I was very careful to close the curtains before I logged on, lest some peeping tom see me through the window. I was still, after all, living in an area where being an undercover gay was probably safest.
Trawling through the profiles, I was disappointed to see that nearly everyone on there was in North America, not many in the UK. There were about three people in Manchester - without photos - and a couple more in London. But that was okay with me, I didn't want my first online communication to be too close to home.
I spotted a photo that made me stop. The man in the picture seemed friendly, he looked trustworthy somehow. He was in Atlanta, USA. Not ideal for an easy commute I know, but before I knew it I had pressed the button and sent a 'wave'. Gulp. I switched off the computer and went back to my 'real' life. But it wasn't long before I logged back on and read this man's profile in a little more detail. He sounded open and decent. So I dropped him a short note, explaining my situation. Naturally that ended up rather a longer note than I had intended but it was good therapy for me if nothing else.
And that's how I began to correspond with a man who was to help me take my first steps into my new life. His name, well let's call him T. He was pivotal in changing my life for the better.
On a plane to New York City...
This was never going to be a romance, but it was a learning experience for me. He proved to be a best friend just when I needed one but it couldn't have happened had I not got on a plane to New York, a rash decision that I made on the spur of the moment and never ever regretted.
Most gay men will tell you that they have been prone at some point to being reckless, most of us have found ourselves in a 'nothing to lose' situation, where almost any risk is worth taking because it couldn't be worse than where we found ourselves at that point in our life. So I got on the plane and crossed the Atlantic to meet a stranger in a hotel. I had made an equally snappy decision in our choice of hotel, T had entrusted the booking of the accommodation to me and I'd found it somewhere online....cheap.
I had chatted with T for some time prior to this, we had spoken on the phone and we clicked, made each other laugh and knew instinctively that we could well be friends. But strangers sharing a room in a New York hotel, never having met before, smacked potentially of a plot for a comedy farce at best or a murder mystery at worst. I mean the Gayjews website didn't guarantee that the profiles were genuine, you just had to trust instinct.
T arranged to meet me at the hotel in New York. He had lived in the city for four years in an earlier incarnation, while studying, so he knew his way around. He had also been 'out' since the age of eighteen so was the best part of twenty years ahead of me in being openly gay.
The very few people who knew about my plan were worried to say the least. It seemed more than likely that this stranger would turn out to be an axe murderer. And as I got off the plane in New York I suddenly had the same feeling. I later discovered that T did too but we both still turned up at the Hotel Malibu on Broadway as planned. Reckless.
Staying at a homeless hostel....
Now Broadway is a long thoroughfare it turns out, and far from being in the heart of theatre-land as I had imagined, this accommodation was miles out in a somewhat seedy area, but in for a penny..... so, as I had arrived at our rendezvous first, I checked in.
I later learnt that according to local reports, the Malibu was a shelter for homeless adults with AIDS and had, according to locals, become something of a centre for drug dealers and prostitutes. That was not hard to believe......
Meeting T for the first time was strange. We were both slightly uncomfortable to find ourselves here, what had seemed so right on the phone across thousands of miles suddenly turned into something more awkward and uncertain. But we decided to go with the flow and so began a friendship that has stood the test of time.
The Malibu 'Hotel' was a real dive, filthy communal bathrooms, dubious beds, fungus growing from the carpets and an atmosphere that was straight out of a gritty movie where it was easy to imagine the illicit goings-on in the corridors and even worse goings-on in the bedrooms. But it certainly made for an adventure. Each time we returned to the hotel our belongings had been moved to a different room. And on each occasion the room was worse until we felt like it might be safer on the streets.
Breakfast at Tiffany's - and the adventure really begins.....
However, T was a marvellous tour guide and educator. Over the next few days, we experienced the best that New York City had to offer. We travelled the subways, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, saw La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway, strolled though Central Park where I imagined being Charity Hope Valentine in my own version of Sweet Charity, my favourite musical. The bittersweet story fitted my life at the time and in Central Park I recalled scenes from the movie as I followed in the footsteps of Shirley Maclaine. We ate at Second Street Deli and even had Breakfast at Tiffany's, or at least wandered in there all Audrey Hepburn-like at breakfast time much to the obvious distaste of the immaculate staff. We stood under the clock at the Waldorf Astoria, the famous rendezvous point from the movies and then T took me to Greenwich Village. This was legendary in the gay world, the site of the Stonewall Inn where gay rights were born and where a real vibe buzzed on the streets. We ate excellent cake at one of the many trendy coffee shops there.
One day over breakfast T asked me a question. It was one of those questions that came from out of the blue and carried with it a profound realisation. He looked at me and asked, “do you think you would have been a good father?” I had often wondered what my life would have been like if I'd been straight, settled down with a nice woman and followed the whole family route. “Yes” I answered, “I think I would have made a great Dad”. He didn't even look up from his breakfast and just said to me “tough”.
Soon it was time for T to leave. He had to go home but I had a few days left before my flight back to the UK. We said farewell, arranged to phone on my return home and then he went. I waved him off on a bus and that was the last time I saw him.
I returned to the Hotel Malibu. My booking here had ended and I wasn't sure where I'd wind up until my flight home in three days time. I laughed to myself, there was always Central Park, that couldn't be worse. As I was making my decision whether to leave or take my chances at the Malibu, I discovered that T had paid for me to stay on, but this time in one of the Malibu's rare ensuite rooms, for the next three days. Compared to the other rooms, this turned out to be a luxury, not only was it quite clean, there was even a private, albeit basic, toilet and shower. T's generous gesture in paying for this room confirmed to me that I had, by some unknown hand of fate, met a gentleman and quite possibly a real life angel.
And during those next three days, I wandered New York a new man, I returned to Greenwich Village on my own and I began to find my feet, confidence bolstered and ready to go back home to England and begin the journey of the rest of my life....
It's been nearly a year since one of the biggest moments in my life.
In July 2016, I went with my partner to watch Carole King performing live in Hyde Park, London.
It wasn't just that I'd been a fan, no a super-fan, of Carole since Lord knows when, probably my early teens if not earlier, or that her words and music resonate with me on the very deepest level. It wasn't even that I was here with my partner when for many many years the very thought of having someone like that in my life seemed to be beyond the remotest possibility. It was the fact that for those few hours in Hyde Park with 65,000 other super-fans, I was experiencing the very essence of contentment. Finding quiet contemplation in a crowd of 65,000 people would seem impossible and yet, here each one of us was inwardly connecting with our spirit through music and outwardly sharing a wave of joy, laden with melancholic poignancy, singing along at the top of our voices, remembering how it was when we first heard the music and realising that we were still alive, lucky and blessed to be hearing the music still.
Carole King was now 74 years old and her voice perhaps a little more fragile than back in the day, but age is irrelevant. This was about being here with the woman who spoke to us through the years, who reassured us through her words and caressed us with her melodies. It was about comfort. Because it reminded us how lucky we were to be here at all, after the journey we each had made.
As she sang her way through Tapestry, her iconic 1971 album, we were all transported back to a time when life felt more simple. When we could imagine a world down the line where the sun might shine every day. A place, where to quote Carole's own words... “Way Over Yonder......trouble's gonna lose me, worry leave me behind”.
But, although time softens the memories, it was always a struggle.
I don't know if I've ever told anyone this but I first 'came out' as a gay man on Carole King's own website.... several years ago, when the internet was in its early days and there was a forum for Carole's fans. I decided that there may be some sympathetic, perhaps like-minded souls there and yet I could also remain more or less anonymous.
In the world in which I lived, where I felt that others were judging me constantly, I was terrified to admit, even to myself, that I was gay. And yet years earlier, one of Carole's own songs had encouraged me to acknowledge this part of me even if I wasn't to admit it fully for some considerable time. The song In The Name Of Love advised me to “..do the things you believe in, in the name of love – and know that you aren't alone, we all have doubts and fears”. That remains one of my favourite songs because it helped shape who I am.
Indeed, in 1986, I wrote a play based on the lyrics, a muddled tale about a closeted gay married man whose wife discovered his secret. The naïve play wasn't going anywhere but in retrospect I can see that it was my unconscious admission to myself about who I was - or who I might become. Or maybe even a conscious admission....
After I had handed the script of my play over to a theatre in Liverpool which had shown an interest, I became consumed with doubt and anxiety. I was terrified that my secret might come out. On some level I wanted it to but at the same time I was utterly petrified. And I returned to the theatre, retrieved my script and tore it up into little pieces. I withdrew to a dark place deep inside myself and there I remained for the next few years, afraid and lonely.
But anyway, after the dawn of the internet, on the Carole King website forum I felt safer. I ventured a modest post admitting that Carole's music was helping me to come out. I didn't expect a response, it was an exercise in gaining personal confidence in my identity. However I received many messages of support, some kind strangers were even congratulating me on being gay. This was a revelation for me and I realised that actually the whole world was not against me, there were others out there like me, we had found the same path through Carole's music and they were willing to encourage and share.
Now, in 2016, the concert in Hyde Park was in some ways a distillation of the journey for me. I hesitate to call it the culmination, as that might imply the journey is over and it isn't, though the biggest part of it surely is.
But here I was, standing with my partner at my side, in a park in London, listening to a woman who helped shape my life, singing from the heart for me - and thousands of others who no doubt each had their own tale to tell. With truth and openness, this woman really had provided the soundtrack to my life.
As Carole sat alone at the piano and sang Will You Love Me Tomorrow, my emotions welled up and spilled over, and the memories of years of uncertainty, pain and real heartache made me cry, tears for the young man I was back then, the man who was struggling to find out who he was, but also tears of pure joy, celebrating the man I am today. And all that had happened in between.
And as I looked around me, on that fair summer's evening while the sun set in shades of orange and red over the horizon, and as Carole sang words from her heart to mine, I saw that 65,000 other people were crying too.
“..do the things you believe in, in the name of love – and know that you aren't alone, we all have doubts and fears”.
It's probably the best advice I have ever had.
Following my post about vegetarianism last week, I was interested to hear from several good people, all offering encouragement should I decide to take the plunge and ditch the meat.
Although as I write this I am preparing a veggie meal for this evening, when it comes to eliminating meat from my diet completely, well I'm not there yet ... but it has got me thinking - not just about where my meat comes from and the way it's reared but also about meat alternatives. The world meat market is worth billions of dollars each year - an unfathomable number of animals are killed for our plates - so are we not, as ethical consumers, morally bound to explore the way in which our meat is produced and perhaps find more compassionate alternatives?
Recently I saw some horrific footage taken inside abattoirs, it was heartbreaking and awful. Nobody with an ounce of compassion could fail to be moved by seeing the images of animals suffering to satisfy the demand of the public for cheap, plentiful meat.
But it's not a simple as that I suppose; as much as we would agree that animals should not be treated in this way, there will for the time being be a huge market for meat and meat products.
Personally, although I am trying to cut down on meat with some success, it is not an easy task to overturn a lifetime's habit; much like smoking, we tend to develop a taste for meat, and then a craving for it. It could be called an addiction.
But what are the alternatives for those who find it difficult to remove meat completely from their diet while they struggle with their conscience?
Soya products can be made to resemble burgers and sausages and there are various savouries made from grains and mushroomy ingredients. All of these are widely available but frankly remain unattractive alternatives to many carnivores. They can be tasty, are often nutritious and filling and rarely can even pass for real meat – but if we are honest they are never going to satisfy the craving of the most obstinate carnivore.
But, there's one particular development that on the face of it appears to offer a possible option for those who care about the animals but perhaps haven't yet got the willpower to give up meat entirely.
Several companies are now working on 'growing' real meat from single cells of tissue in a controlled environment, a process that could completely eliminate the need to rear and slaughter animals. Known as cultured meat, it is biologically identical to the meat that we eat, is non GMO and amazingly contains no animal products apart from the original cells used to start the culture.
Meat without harming a single animal? Surely that's a great prospect.
Not only that but the meat produced is basically exactly the same product as the meat we buy at the supermarket.
Incredibly, because of the method used in it's manufacture, the meat might even be acceptable to those vegetarians and vegans for whom the main objection to meat is the cruelty of intensive animal farming.
One company, Supermeat, based in Israel is asking for private funding to continue its research, they state on their website:-
“One of the purposes of our company is to make cultured meat products without ongoing animal use. We have a unique technology to make that happen, without the use of serum and other animal ingredients”
Another company, this time in the USA, Memphis Meats, has developed beef, chicken and duck meat using cell cultures, without harming a single animal.
I know, this just sounds too good to be true... so what are the drawbacks?
Well for now there is an issue with the cost because due to the small scale of research and production, currently the cost to produce this lab meat is quite high, although it is falling rapidly.
The team at Memphis Meats expects to continue reducing production costs dramatically, with a target launch of its products to consumers as soon as 2021.
It may take a huge leap of faith for some of us to embrace this innovative approach to meat production but personally I feel it must be worthy of consideration.
The world is not going to stop eating meat any time soon and the increasing demand means that animal welfare standards are bound to fall even further as pressure is put on farmers and abattoirs by consumers to drive costs down. This means unthinkable distress for animals and I find that entirely unacceptable.
For the sake of the animals we should look at every alternative and this 'lab meat' to my mind is a possible solution.
The environmental benefits that might arise from this alternative to intensive farming cannot be underestimated either. Research suggests that producing 'lab meat' would result in 45% less energy, 99% less land use and 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than current meat production methods.
The Dutch government has been spending large amounts of money funding research into cultured meat production. I feel it is the duty of every civilised nation in the world to follow their lead.
For those who can bear to look (and I think all of us who are meat eaters should), there is a video from PETA following this post where Sir Paul McCartney voices his concerns about intensive animal farming.
For anyone interested in companies and organisations developing and researching cultured meat, the following web sites may be of interest:-
Just to cement my dissociation from politics which I've had up to here (points to top of head), I've decided not to engage in any political discussion with anyone, on or off Facebook or anywhere else, and I'm moving on to what are most likely much more important topics.
People roll their eyes when you mention the word 'vegetarian' and even more should you say 'vegan', it's a built-in prejudice that may be left over from the 70's when it was a short-lived fashion to embrace one or the other, become a bit of a contrived eccentric, stop eating meat, start eating pulses, join a commune (very popular back then) and wear tie-dye smocks. That's not a parody, it's just what happened. If you don't remember it then ask someone who was around back then.
Now, although attitudes have been slow to adjust, more and more people are engaging in the vegetarian movement and for some really good reasons that don't necessarily involve sandals and lentils.
Firstly, there is much more around now to cater for this way of life, supermarket shelves bulge with veggie foods and restaurant menus offer tempting fare for non meat eaters. Given the appalling conditions in which our meat is produced, anyone with any conscience should probably refrain from eating meat, there's no excuse not to.
But.... basically we (and by 'we' I mean 'me') like to eat meat, it's a habit that is difficult to break. I've seen some of the awful treatment of intensively farmed animals, the waste and the cruelty. I am well aware that these conditions will not improve while there is demand for the product. I realise that by calling the end product 'a product' in itself makes it more palatable and less of what it really is - a life created and terminated to satisfy the human craving for meat. Imagining the animal as a product removes any compassion we need have as humans for the welfare of the animal. And thereby lies the problem.
I struggle with how I would adapt to my concept of vegetarianism but I struggle just as much with the fact that I am part of the demand for cheap meat. I am part of the problem.
Growing up in the countryside, I used to visit a local farm every morning to see the calves and get a glass of 'fresh from the cow' milk. I 'adopted' one calf and called it Patch. I'd visit him every day and we quickly formed a bond. Then one morning I arrived at the farm to see him on the back of a truck, ready to be driven off to the abattoir, along with all the others. Nobody can ever tell me that he did not know where he was going. There was fear in his eyes.
I number within my extended family (and circle of friends) a percentage of vegetarians and vegans and I admire greatly their discipline. I don't necessarily know their reasons for choosing their lifestyle but I imagine that an opposition to animal cruelty will figure in many of their choices.
In our household we have started to make at least one day each week meat-free. It's not difficult and it's not expensive. It's even quite tasty, given the many options that every supermarket now offers both in raw ingredients and ready made meals. Perhaps one day soon we will make it two days a week, or maybe more. But the eternal conundrum still returns, I like to eat meat. And I don't know how to stop liking it even though I know I'd feel much better about myself if I did take the plunge and become vegetarian.
Perhaps the biggest influence on me regarding this question will be my literary hero Isaac Bashevis Singer, a loyal vegetarian and an all-round very good man.
I think this quote from him perfectly sums up the reason (if one really should need one) to give up meat. For the sake of the animals.
To Mr Singer there was nothing more important in life than kindness. Who would not agree with that?
“We find very few people who have never thought that killing animals is actually murder, founded on the premise that might is right . . . I will call it the eternal question: What gives man the right to kill an animal often torture it, so that he can fill his belly with its flesh. We know now, as we have always known instinctively, that animals can suffer as much as human beings. their emotions and their sensitivity are often stronger than those of a human being. Various philosophers and religious leaders tried to convince their disciples and followers that animals are nothing more than machines without a soul, without feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal be it a dog, a bird or even a mouse - knows that this theory is a brazen lie, invented to justify cruelty.” Extracts from Singer's foreword to 'Vegetarianism, a Way of Life, by Dudley Giehl'
Welcome to my blog.