Tuesday, 11 October 2016


Yesterday I spent World Mental Health Day having a self-care day, which seems appropriate. In reality you ought to be good to yourself every day of course, but that’s just not plausible for most of us, so for those who need it, it’s important to put aside special days – or even just some hours or moments if that’s what you can spare – to prioritise feeling good and being kind to yourself.

The reason I need self-care days is basically down to anxiety. My approach to controlling my anxiety these days is preventative, because once it’s there it’s basically a straitjacket and the more you struggle the tighter it winds around you. I know the circumstances that set off my anxiety and when I start to eliminate them – coffee instead of food on an empty stomach, alcohol, being disorganised, running out of money, lying – my quality of life gets measurably better. Other anxiety triggers are unavoidable – guilt, emotional friction, fear of violence, bad health, running out of money – while some episodes have no tangible origin whatsoever and you just have to have your tactics to hand for when they arrive.

Two things are definitely true for me: the more I look after my body – yoga, exercise, sex, good food, less alcohol and caffeine ­– the less anxiety I will have to go through; and the more I look after my mind – yoga, reading, learning, meditation, art, new experience, conversation – the less anxiety I get and the better able I feel to deal with the way I live and the world I have to live in. Self-care days help me to sustain all of that.

What my self-care days are
All mine.
An opportunity to think about my mental and physical health.
An opportunity to learn from people going through similar.
A chance to think how far I’ve come.
Truly lovely times.

What my self-care days are not
‘Treat days’. It shouldn’t be a big treat to want to go for a walk for no reason, or make a 5 hour playlist just for yourself, or make imaginary AirBnB wish lists. They’re just simple pleasures that I deserve and that harm nobody.
‘An excuse to bunk off work’. I’m a freelancer, that means I work hard and I work long hours, but I work them when I want to. Also there ain’t nothing wrong with bunking off work anyway.
A day to get over hangovers. My self-care days are all about improving on my default condition, not struggling to get back to an emotional ‘norm’ after self-abuse. If you’re only ever recovering, then you’re never improving!

Things I like to do on a self-care day
Ride my bike with no destination and in any weather.
Notice really small things.
Take ages to do things.
Watch, read, listen to bell hooks. She is my intellectual icon, she theorises love as a survival tactic, she is teachable, she makes me think about my own political accountability, she loves conversation as a method of teaching. All this sustains my brain, I am very grateful to her.
Listen to every single version of a single song that I can find.
Watch TED Talks, listen to On Being.
Yoga, either at home or at a class if I feel like facing people. Classes are great because people pay attention to you in a caring way and everyone is there to feel good.
Reciting Victoria Wood.
Trying to learn ‘Billy in the Darbies’ off by heart.
Getting in touch with friends I’ve not seen for ages.
Comedy comedy comedy.
Long baths.
Give money to charity if I have it.
Re-read things I love.
Write fiction.
Make really insanely optimistic plans for the future.

Things I don’t do on a self-care day
Check messages if I don’t want to.
Read the news.
Worry about money.
Waste time.

I hope you gave yourself some quality time on World Mental Health Day. Try a self-care day, they are fun to curate, fun to do, and have seriously good repercussions. Put one on the calendar, you’re worth it.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


Our old dog came to see me in a dream this morning. Maybe he knew it was my birthday! He was sitting next to me on the couch, growling and whining because I had gloves and a hat on. He never liked it when you wore them. I took them off and his eyes were sad and stubborn like they used to be and his snout was wet. Oisín woke me up because I was ‘beeping’, the anxious sound that I make when I’m having bad dreams, but actually I was having a bit of a sleep-cry. I got up to fetch some water and in the kitchen I could hear a single bird from outside having a riotous sing. He’s still going now. It’s 5.45 am. He has no idea how old he is, how old the world is, how long birds have been singing, he’s just doing his thing.

I’m 38 today, I can hardly believe it. I still wanna throw my bonnet over the windmill and rush into the sea at midnight (Pat Phoenix). I remember leaving home at 18 with absolutely no idea how to do anything at all but read books. Things have gotten much better. I’ve been in Manchester 20 years now, I’m the IRA bomb generation. I’ll have a big party in September to celebrate my anniversary I think.

I spent time with my Mum last week and found out my biological Dad made a conscious decision not to see me again quite a short time after I was born. It doesn’t make a big difference, and it started before that because he never came to get us from the hospital when I was born or anything. I’m so much older now than he was when he left that it seems churlish to even think about it but it has hurt me a bit. I’m lucky though because I’ve been so loved my whole life by lots of people. Even now, on occasional days when I’m still in my pyjamas and my anxiety is out of hand and I haven’t been able to pay rent, Oisín will tell me not to worry, I’m a unique handsome genius and Manchester would fall apart without me and why don’t I become a famous singer or something? 

I never do a jot of work on my birthday, this is the only thing I’ll write today. Weather permitting, we are getting on our bikes later and cycling out to look at a 1920s street or something, and then having a massive vegetarian feast at Lily’s Indian restaurant, then a pint, and then I’m going to read Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. There’s a cake too, I could smell it baking when I got back from DJing last night. Good morning everyone, happy birthday!


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Queer Contact… the story so far!

It’s been a rollercoaster of variety already: funny, serious, questioning, confrontational… Here’s what I’ve got up to at this year’s Queer Contact so far.

Life’s A Drag is a piece by artist Jez Dolan looking at Manchester’s drag history, and present day, and these live performances represent the first fruits of an ongoing project. Written with playwright Chris Hoyle, Life’s a Drag is a meta-comedy where we see two drag queens preparing backstage for a show. While they bitch, kvetch, laugh and take us on a journey back in time via the make-up box, they teach one another about the relevance of their own particular school of drag and gayness, from Polari to RuPaul. We encounter legends and legendary nights out, from Foo Foo Lamaar to the Hulme drag ball, and it’s all done with such a light touch that it feels like a genuine eavesdrop, even as they kick down the fourth wall with heels. There’s a superbly moving moment with a pair of earrings that crystallises what the piece is about for me, plus an astonishingly good musical medley at the end, sung across the decades, but no spoilers as to the songs…

FAdoubleGOT and The Daily Grind worked well on the same bill. The former is Jamal Gerald’s very personal story, encompassing bullying, education, a second-generation immigrant experience, youth, sexuality and life in a Northern town. Using monologue, symbolism, music and pop culture, it’s performed with a charming combination of earnestness and sass that perhaps even its very young creator isn’t fully aware of. He’s also a terrific poet and his verse threads neatly through the piece as he goes. The Daily Grind is the work of a slightly older, very serious theatre maker, all about life on dating apps. Don’t be surprised if you feel vulnerable and discomfited as much as moved to laughter. The dissonance of the performance comes from its single performer and writer, Laurie Brown, flitting between friendly, camp, menacing and monstrous. For anyone in the know it mirrors convincingly the Jekyll and Hyde nature of online encounters. The last five minutes of the show were a borderline genius move.

A personal highlight so far has been Outspoken, the poetry and spoken word event. A real triumph of curating, the breadth of writing styles and extremely high standard of performance, not to mention the content which ran from surreal to sad to hilarious to too-damn-true, made for a really inspirational evening. Such a treat to see Jackie Kay perform, and a first real life encounter too with my online favourite, poet AJ McKenna. Also introduced me to astonishing work from Paula Varjack and Keith Jarrett too. Seek them out.

Another personal favourite was STUD, a bizarre and hilarious journey through masculinity and the world of horses (yes, horses). Created and performed by a truly confident and accomplished performer, like no other show on the bill the audience were in this performer’s hands from the opening seconds. It’s hard to even describe the show or why it works so well, suffice to say after twenty minutes you stop even noticing the glorious pubic bush that’s constantly on show. It’s a piece that gently terrorises gender, with a handsaw, a raw carrot, whatever comes to hand or hoof. Eilidh McAskill, I salute you.

Still to come for me: Our Lady J, which will be a Valentine musical weekend sensation, and a religious experience in the shape of Jesus Queen of Heaven, on a Sunday of course… Full line up is here, and check out the pics from my own Queer Contact event right here. See you soon…!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Queer Contact 2016

Gender isn’t a exactly new frontier for queer people, it’s always been a frontier. The law that got to be too damn much at Stonewall – as we should know by now but as Laverne reminds us – was that all patrons must wear three items of clothing ‘appropriate to their gender’ otherwise the police would crack skulls.

Gender and its multiple expressions are deep in the heart of queer history and art. It wasn’t long ago that homosexuality / drag / transgenderism were talked about as a continuum of expression. You encounter it in contemporary accounts of the Stonewall era, right up to Paris is Burning. The scare queens, butches and femme queens of yesteryear might not necessarily connote cis or trans precisely the way we think of those terms today. Our connections to one another as queer people of all genders are deep and abiding and vital.

Timely as ever, this year’s Queer Contact Festival puts together a broad and exciting programme where gender is frequently at the artistic frontier. Transparent has been one of the most radically queer mainstream shows ever created, winning dozens of awards as it interrogates ideas about sexuality, history and identity. It’s something of a coup that one of the writers and series advisors, Our Lady J, is appearing at Queer Contact 2016. Her original musical show ‘For the Love of Gospel’ will help demonstrate why she has worked with everyone from Sia to Debbie Harry, via Antony Hegarty, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper and Scissor Sisters.

Next, from high-femme to bold and butch, Eilidh Macaskill’s ‘STUD’ puts a queer woman’s perspective on the traditional gender binary as she performs a series of hyper-masculine tropes, exercising her ‘penis envy’ with full comedy intact.

For a more local perspective on the performance of gender, Jez Dolan and Chris Hoyle’s ‘Life’s A Drag’ is the beginning of a year-long project that celebrates Manchester’s drag culture and its deep roots with performance, oral history and maybe even some participation, so get your foundation right.

If the Pet Shop Boys are ‘The Smiths you can dance to’, Erasure are the Pet Shop Boys you can really camp it up to. Singer Andy Bell’s Contact show will take him on a somewhat different route as he explores the vexed polysexual character of ‘Saint Torsten’ through a song-cycle written especially for him and lately performed at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a chance to see and hear a legendary gay pop voice as never before.

Another Queer Contact highlight is the return of Debs Gatenby, star of the much-loved Hi, Anxiety, whose new solo show looks at those journeys, inside and out, in search of ‘A Place Called Happiness’.

A dose of raw comedy can be had in the Comedy Playground where seven stand-ups battle it out for your love and lolz, including Bethany Black of Cucumber/Banana fame, Suzi Ruffell from telly and a familiar flamboyant host...

As for me, I’ll be throwing a Queer Contact launch party in the shape of A Queer Revue! at Band on the Wall, featuring international and local trans, gay, lesbian and queer talent, including contemporary dance, singing drag queens, Kate Bush and Bowie tributes, poetry, pop videos, comedy and a big old party afterwards.

As for the rest of the programme, you can tuck into the full listings here, or use my handy taster guide below…!