Happy Birthday Mr Benn!

It seems that the lead character of one of my favourite children’s television shows is 50 this year. Mr Benn is 50! When did that happen? He’s as much a part of my childhood as Thunderbirds, The Magic Roundabout and Trumpton – which just goes to show how old I am. It was a simple enough premise – a man in a dark suit and bowler hat who looked like he worked for Homepride would go into a fancy dress shop, be met by a plump chap in a waistcoat and a fez (Rene from Allo Allo moonlighting, I suppose) and hire a fancy dress costume. He’d go into the changing room, put the costume on, go through another door and be in the world represented by his costume – so if he had a clown costume, he’d be in the circus, that kind of thing. He’d have a little adventure, cheer someone up, then go back to the shop, change back into his suit, and go home. That was it until the next episode.

I always thought there were hundreds of episodes (at least, I remember hundreds of them) but in fact there were only thirteen which have clearly been on rerun for years – a bit like Fawlty Towers only with less lunacy. They were lovely little stories, of which I am still incredibly fond, but I’m not sure modern children take to them the same way we did when we were younger. Testament to the human desire for a bit of escapism, an exhibition to celebrate 50 years of Mr Benn is being held at a Central London gallery and you can’t get tickets for love, money or a fancy dress costume. Whether or not it is being curated by a plump chap in a waistcoat and a fez is yet to be seen.

Can One Be A BME Goth?

I can’t decide whether I’m amazed or appalled that this question even needs to be asked. This is what happens if you let Goth become nothing more than a fashion statement – if you don’t fit the pro-forma of pale skin and dark hair while being twig thin and six feet tall, you’re not Goth. And that attitude, quite frankly, is not Goth at all. I’ve always found it to be a most welcoming place, whatever your shape, size or ethnic background.

Before I go any further, although I am not myself BME, I do not fit the Goth stereotype either. I’m barely average height, and even at my thinnest never had a flat stomach. I’ve always had childbearing hips too. And – while I’m on the subject – I wear glasses and am now best described as middle-aged. And yet none of my friends would dispute my Gothic status. I’m just too downright peculiar.

But if we want to get into the nitty gritty, there is no reason why BME individuals can’t enjoy a little Gothic if that’s what they want. Indeed, one of the earliest classics of Gothic literature is Vathek by William Beckford, which is actually great fun – and the palest thing in it is the moon. It’s set in an unnamed Arabian country (more than a nod to the Arabian Nights, I suspect) and is full of witches, djinns and all sorts of bonkers nonsense. It’s a complete hoot, even if it is a bit wordy at times.

Ancient Egypt also offers the Goth a lot of inspiration – quite aside from ubiquitous ankhs and Eyes of Horus. How many eyes did Horus have, anyway? Some Goths prefer an oriental theme to their lifestyles, finding inspiration from Imperial China and classical Japan – or they go the full techno-Goth and model everything on a battered copy of Neuromancer. The Creole cultures of New Orleans and St Louis – and Haiti, come to think of it – provide a great deal of inspiration for the Gothically minded so I don’t see why other cultures can’t join in. Please do!

As far as I am concerned, Goth is not what you look like. It never has been. It’s about who you are and how you behave. So if a pale-skinned, dark haired, twig thin little wraith tries to tell you otherwise – perhaps you need to explain that it’s not just a phase they’re going through.

Is Death Ever Funny?

Unless you’re the late Sir Terry Pratchett, finding humour in death is always going to be tricky. Unfortunately I have a Bible black sense of humour (an expression freely nicked from Nick Cave, but it really suits) and I have to bite my tongue when something terrible happens because I know I will find a funny side somewhere – and that’s what a lot of people find offensive. I don’t mean to be – and always apologise if a guffaw gets out before I can stop it. It’s just that I find some very odd things funny.

This is why I can’t help but love the Darwin Awards. This is a list published every year of the most bizarre deaths that occurred in the previous twelve months (I’m not sure who publishes it, but Ye Olde Google will help there); the name came about because the stupid gene is effectively removed from the gene pool. Unless, of course, you are the 100 year old lady who was fatally run over by the lorry that was delivering her birthday cake… (a previous winner) as she had time to produce a very large family…

I also keep a Death List – not a prediction of people who are expected to die in the following twelve months (or who I think probably ought to die) but the people who have. It’s interesting to see patterns – there’s definitely a “busy period” around February, and then things go quiet during May and June, before picking up again in October. I can only speculate as to why!

Talking to a friend who is married to a fireman, it is interesting to see how black humour can be used as a coping mechanism (I used to work in a hospital many years ago, and heard some of the most bitingly funny jokes from the mortuary staff) – which is why we do find ourselves laughing at unfortunate things. To this day, the opening chapters of Marilyn Manson’s autobiography are excruciatingly hilarious – what happened to his grandfather is terrible but the way it is told has me in stitches.

All of this said – there is a very fine line between laughing at death and plain old bad taste (I cross it often enough, so you’d think I’d know where it is by now). People need to grieve for lost loved ones so that is not a good time to recall when they got their head stuck in the toilet seat and ran down the street naked screaming blue murder. And, if possible, let them make the first jokes. And jokes about dead children, murder victims or large scale tragic accidents are ALWAYS a no-no.

Otherwise, it’s best to laugh. Death will come for us all eventually, and I believe that pointing a finger and having a good chuckle at him might just make it a bit better in the long run.

A Terrible Confession

Yes, I’m afraid the rumours are true. I do think Anthony Scaramucci is gorgeous. He’s an obnoxious foul-mouthed twerp, but still – I could look at him for hours. Just as long as he sits in the corner with his trap shut.

I’m not sure, actually, that this is something one admits in polite company, but I was really quite upset that he was fired. The new guy (and the old guy, come to think of it) just aren’t as easy on the eye. If I turned the sound off during a Scaramucci press conference, it was just perfect. The combination of sharp suit, mirrored Aviators and “I could have been Sebastian Stan if I’d been twenty years younger and Romanian” insouciance won it for me. It didn’t matter what he was talking about, I was too busy swooning to listen. It was the best daydream I’d had over the past couple of weeks.

I’ll miss The Mooch now he’s gone. Could someone send me a signed picture to keep me happy please?

Helena Holmes – Voodoo Artist

Random meetings in coffee shops can have all sorts of strange after-effects. Most days before I go into work I have time for a cup of tea in a little café near my office – it just sets up my morning quite well and allows me to engage my work-brain. And, quite often, I end up sharing a table with someone which, more often than not, sparks a conversation. This was how I met Helena Holmes, who is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met – and I’ve met some real characters over the years.

Helena is an artist and costume designer originally from Haiti (and who has retained an enchanting accent) whose artwork is inspired by her home country and its religion, Voodoo (or Voudou, depending on your spelling). This led to a discussion about non-Christian religions (as I am at best a pagan, at worst CBA) and how similar they can be. It was a wonderful discussion, interesting and informative and conducted with much love and generosity on both sides. She also makes costumes for film and theatre, writes her own scripts and throws in a bit of life coaching in the middle.

I learned a lot about voodoo from her; about how it was considered to be a reaction to oppression – Haiti is not the wealthiest of places, let’s be blunt here – and how it was about self-belief, pride and strength in the face of that oppression. She was very keen to stress that it wasn’t about violence or witchcraft, but – like many animist religions – about communicating with greater powers for inspiration, strength and courage. I found it a fascinating and interesting conversation and it was a dreadful shame I had to go to work, because I could quite happily have spent most of the morning chatting to her.

Helena referred me to her website – http://www.helenaholmesartzone.com/ – for further information. Do feel free to take a look (although I must state that her art – like anything in life – may not be to everyone’s taste).

So What Is Goth, Then?

Well, my other posts on the subject illustrate just how broad a church Goth can be if it’s allowed to be. I’ve long believed that Goth is much more than a fashion – in fact, the dress code should be (and in my case, often is) entirely optional. It’s a sensibility and if cultivated, can be found pretty much anywhere.

I suppose a little personal history needs to be provided to explain this. I’ve been Goth since about 1982, when I was still at school and going through what my fellow pupils termed “a bit of a weird phase”; fortunately, the school uniform was navy blue or black so I had ample opportunity to tinker. Black tights and not-entirely-regulation shoes were by far the easiest bit. I listened to Bauhaus, The Cure, The (Southern Death/Death) Cult (still my personal faves), The Mission, Sisters of Mercy while reading Dracula and books about Transylvania. Nothing in the (however many) years since then has changed. I still listen to the same bands (and a few newer ones), read the same books (and a few newer ones) and have to be physically restrained from putting my name down for a Transylvanian mansion that I still can’t afford. This phase is not one I’ve grown out of – even if I no longer look the part.

Although the majority of my wardrobe is black, there are other colours – blue, purple, green and red all make an appearance, mainly on the top half. Pink doesn’t appear much, I don’t like it and it doesn’t suit me. More to the point, my bank balance no longer supports the amount of shopping I would need to do to follow the fashion – most of my clothes are from supermarkets these days. Yet nobody who knows me doubts for a second that I’m Goth. Even my daughter understands that mummy is a little bit strange.

To me, this means that Goth is not just a fashion – although that is a useful way of identifying those of a similar mind set – but really is a sensibility; and if that is the case, can it be cultivated? I think it can if one is prepared to open their mind to all eventualities – shadows are everywhere if you know what to look for. If the Dark Side calls you, by all means explore but don’t let it take over.

Just for the record, it’s also important to point out what Goth is NOT. It’s not Satanism. It’s not Witchcraft. It’s not Black Magic (although I do have a box of them at home which I’m still eating). I don’t want to kill people (unless it’s 34 degrees in the shade and I’m trying to fight my way through Victoria Station to catch my train). Admittedly, I do have my own mental health issues to deal with but that is something personal to me and can’t be applied to Goths everywhere – some of them are the sanest people I know. If you want to suggest it’s just a fashion, that’s fine. I would suggest that a fashion is only skimming the surface and Goth has hidden depths that could keep you entertained for the rest of your life.

Summertime Goth

I hate summer. There, I’ve said it. I hate the heat, I hate the sunshine and I just want to sit in a fridge all day; but that’s also because I’m middle aged, overheat at the drop of a sixpence and burn rather than tan, even though I’m naturally dark haired. It’s about the only time I ever say that I’d much rather be pale and interesting and mean it.

The thing I’ve really noticed over the years is the number of people saying “Aren’t you hot in that?” just because I’m wearing black. They seem fixated on the idea that just because it’s black, my outfit will suck all the heat from the atmosphere and turn my body into a molten core. Look, it feels like that anyway, so whatever I’m wearing isn’t going to make a blind spot of difference. Besides which, have you seen the number of Saudi women who wear head to toe black? It isn’t the colour that makes the difference – it’s the fabric and the cut of the outfit that determines whether you melt or not.

For example, velvet is, as far as I’m concerned, a cool weather fabric. Cotton, linen and lace are warm weather fabrics. Silk is the fabric to wear for those “oh my god its thirty degrees in the shade and I’m on fire” days. Looser, less fitted clothes are cooler than tightly strapped in corseted to the hilt outfits. Heels if you must, but I refuse to give up my black sequinned flip flops because they don’t “look Goth”. Listen, sweetie, it’s too bloody hot for that nonsense. They’re comfy, they keep my feet cool and they’re black which are the three things that bother me most.

Thinking about it, Goths could really revitalise a summer trend that has gone out of fashion – the parasol. Designed in the Victorian era to keep the sun off a lady’s skin (as pale skin was considered more attractive because it suggested you didn’t have to work for a living), many Goths still use parasols and I think in weather like this they are an essential accessory. They also double up as a useful prod in the tube station to make sure the Sweaty Betty doesn’t get too near you! The only reason I don’t have one is that I don’t possess an umbrella either, but that’s just reverse vanity on my part.

So, my advice is to enjoy summer as best you can and bring back the parasol. Being Britain, chances are it won’t last.