Friday, 25 September 2015

Anarchy in Maidstone

It was 1986 or maybe 1987, a date left unrecorded in diaries which I usually managed to keep going up until about June, at which point I would tire of writing the same introspective crap every fucking evening and take six months off. I was a student at Maidstone College of Art and lived in an old farmhouse with four others in the village of Otham in Kent. It was seven in the morning, which was an unusual time for someone's fist to be hammering quite so hard at the door, and none of us really knew anyone with fists that size. The fist was hammering at the door of the middle room, adjacent to my bedroom on the ground floor, specifically the door which opened onto Otham Street. This suggested that the owner of the fist was either a stranger, or someone who had never before visited any of us at our student accommodation because the door which opened onto Otham Street actually didn't open at all, serving instead as an oversized frame to our letterbox. I rolled across the bed to the window side and peered through dusty glass into strong morning sunlight of the kind seen on the covers of early seventies folk albums. I could see a cop at the door, and it was his fist which had woken me. He had a few friends with him and a police car was parked on the grass verge a little further down the road. I waved an uneasy wave and then jabbed a finger, pointing towards the side of the house, the universal sign language for use the other door.

I pulled on my dressing gown and went through a mental Rolodex of possible reasons as to why the forces of law and order could be at my home at seven on a Sunday morning. The most obvious possibility was that they had the wrong place. I went through to the kitchen and opened the door to ID badges, search warrants and all the stuff you see on the telly, at least I think I did. It's difficult to be sure of the sequence of events, to separate what happened from that which I've since seen in cop shows. Had there been no search warrant - which is also a possibility - I probably would have invited them in regardless on the grounds of it making me appear less suspicious, and less likely to have committed crimes.

Holy shit, I thought, wondering if I could have murdered anyone and then found the incident so traumatic as to have completely blanked it from memory. I'd been raised to feel guilty about any number of indeterminate crimes and I let them in, understanding that whatever I had done wrong, slamming the door and telling them to piss off probably wasn't going to help the situation even had I been capable of such a demonstration. I recall the senior officer as having resembled Warren Clarke in the role of Detective Superintendent Dalziel from Dalziel and Pascoe, a television series which wouldn't be made until 1996, and which I would never watch because I find it irritating when the spelling and the pronunciation of a proper noun have no letters in common. His resemblance to Warren Clarke should accordingly be taken as indicative of the accuracy of my memory, or not as the case may be.

'We're investigating an act of vandalism,' Mr. Dalziel probably said. 'Mind if we take a look around?'

'Of course not,' I responded with a huge smile, a huge and casual smile, the smile of somebody with nothing to hide.

They came into the house, these four massive cops, or at least I remember the count as having been four. I returned to my bedroom. It was Sunday morning and only Gill and myself were at home. Gill had heard me answer the door and some of the subsequent conversation. Our three housemates were away and this was a problem because this visit was apparently something to do with Yellow Hair Woman, or at least the police saw it as a problem. They really wanted to speak to her. They were reluctant to explain quite why, but this being seven on a Sunday morning suggested that it probably wasn't a fine on an overdue library book.

Yellow Hair Woman worked at some pizza place in town on Saturday evenings and usually stayed in Maidstone at her boyfriend's place; so I said no, I had no idea where she was.

Would Gill or I mind if they had a look around Yellow Hair Woman's room in her absence?

I didn't really get this, having already seen a search warrant, or at least seeming to recall having seen a search warrant; but there obviously wasn't much to be gained from suggesting they go fuck themselves. Gill and myself felt we knew Yellow Hair Woman well enough to know she probably wouldn't have either a gun or a Sainsbury's carrier bag full of heroin stuffed behind her bookshelf, and she'd never been particularly keen on the old space fags. On the other hand, Yellow Hair Woman had spent some time at the women's peace camp at Greenham Common protesting the presence of cruise missiles at the RAF base, which somewhat placed her political sympathies in opposition to certain aspects of government policy; and while it wasn't that I didn't believe in that sinister knock on the door at seven in the morning or secretive government agencies who might resort to Orwellian tactics, I genuinely didn't see how they could be interested in us. Yellow Hair Woman hadn't said much about Greenham, but I was fairly sure that she hadn't blown anyone up or anything.

Tap tap tap.

The knock was on my bedroom door, just a knuckle rather than the entire fist. 'Mind if I come in and take a look around?' Warren Clarke asked, coming in and taking a look around.

My room was fairly tidy for a room in an old house occupied by someone with a heavy comic book and record album habit. Warren Clarke's eyes widened a little, doubtless impressed by my record collection, and his eyes scanned the posters I'd blutacked to the wall. They came to rest on one which had been sent to me by Andy Martin of the Apostles, a non-anarchist and not especially punky band associated with certain London counter-cultural types. The poster showed a stylised police officer handing money to a female figure whose profession is identified by the slogun Social Workers: Paid to Grass. The design satirised the sort of information leaflets handed out at dole offices and medical centres. The implication, for anyone missing the reference, was that government workers assigned to assist the unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged will happily relay your supposedly confidential information to the forces of law and order for money. It wasn't that I felt strongly about social workers or their allegedly flapping mouths - although I liked the general message of  distrust for authority - but mainly I had it on my wall because I thought it was funny.

I found it less funny as Warren Clarke glared at the image and gruffly observed, 'well, I'm not sure what I think about that.'

I knew I was doomed, and that this was the moment described on all those Crass albums in which the system would reveal its true face unto me. This time tomorrow I would be found dead in a cell, found in possession of something which had been planted in my room, resisting arrest blah blah blah...

Warren Clarke sniffed my ash tray, peered under the bed, and then left. The cops gathered in the kitchen and apologised for the inconvenience, at last deigning to tell us what they had been looking for. A cashpoint at one of the banks in town had been vandalised during the early hours of the morning. Yellow Hair Woman's card had been used to raise the perspex security screen, and then someone had gone at it with emulsion paint, screwdrivers, hammers and the like. We told them it really didn't sound like the sort of thing Yellow Hair Woman would do, because it really didn't.

Days later, the fugitive from justice reappeared. She knew all about the investigation and had already been interviewed and released without charge. She told the police she had lost the card, which was true in so much as she had given it to Revolutionary Mollusc Man. His name wasn't really Revolutionary Mollusc Man any more than her name was Yellow Hair Woman, and she had given him the card because it was expired and he had asked for it. Revolutionary Mollusc Man was an anarchist engaged in a one-cephalopod war against the forces of capitalism.

'So he used your card to smash up the cashpoint?'

'Yes.' Yellow Hair Woman had the sort of brow which leant itself to an impressive frown, not unlike Little My from Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books - small and fierce but inherently likeable. She frowned impressively as we sat in the pub smoking our roll-ups, taking stock. 'It was stupid of me. I wish I hadn't done it now.'

'Well, you didn't really do anything. Not if it was him, I mean.'

'I knew why he wanted the card, but I didn't think about it. I feel pretty rotten about the police searching our house. You and Gill—'

'Oh don't worry. I suppose it was a bit of an adventure, if anything. There was no harm done.'

I'd known Revolutionary Mollusc Man for most of the three years of my course. He'd started an anarchist group at the college and I'd joined, not because I was an anarchist but because I was incredibly lonely. We met every so often around his house to discuss a fanzine he produced on his own personal spirit duplicator, or to plan attendance of marches and protests going on in London or elsewhere. I agreed with the spirit of the enterprise, if not always with its purported aims, whatever they were. I wrote a couple of short, self-involved, and probably barely literate articles for the fanzine, but my heart wasn't really in it. I didn't really know what I thought of anarchy as an ideology but it sounded a little dubious to me, and my distrust of authority was not then so well formed as to be rubbed in people's faces; and whilst I really didn't like to say anything, this seemed to be mainly what Revolutionary Mollusc Man was about, or it looked that way from where I was stood.

He could be generous, funny, and was often great company, but at other times his company became exhausting. To be at his side was to be on trial, inevitably to be found lacking sufficient anger in regard to this political outrage or that fiasco perpetrated by an oppressive capitalist society. He presented himself as a moral beacon, something to which the rest of us might aspire. I never understood how anyone could be quite that angry about matters of which they seemingly had little direct experience, or the need for that anger to be acknowledged as a mark of character.

Either the Revolutionary Mollusc Man fanzine or an issue of Class War he had taken to distributing had featured an article calling for the head of PC Keith Blakelock to be paraded in some undefined capacity upon a spike in general celebration of class anger. Blakelock had been killed during the Broadwater Farm riots on a housing estate in north London following the death of a black woman whose house he had searched. Aside from the fact of Blakelock already being dead, I tend to find calls for heads impaled on spikes uncivilised, unnecessary, and unhelpful regardless of which side of the fence you happen to be stood upon. Revolutionary Mollusc Man was very much with the heads impaled on spikes camp in regard to this issue, which apparently made me either a bleeding heart middle class liberal with no experience of just how tough it can be out on the mean streets, or a Nazi sympathiser. Personally I preferred to see myself as simply someone not actively seeking causes upon which to pin my angry slurping noises in an effort to make everyone else feel bad about themselves.

Revolutionary Mollusc Man turned up on facebook many years later, as everyone does in the end. I'm still causing trouble, he told me, the neutral black and white text on the screen seeming to communicate something like glee. I congratulated him because I suppose that was what he wanted to hear - or rather to read - and I recalled Revolutionary Mollusc Man discovering me stuffing a cheeseburger into my face outside McDonalds one afternoon, and then I recalled my friend Carl catching him eating a sausage in the kitchen of the student house in Terrace Road.

'You can't eat that,' observed Carl. 'I thought you were a vegetarian!'

'No-one tells me what to do,' Revolutionary Mollusc Man explained testily.

After about a week he began setting me straight regarding my facebook posts, pointing out that what I had said was bollocks, as I would surely realise had I been right there on the picket line fighting off hordes of EDL thugs. I wrote piss off, and deleted him from my friends list, which felt good but also a little sad because I genuinely like to think the best of people.

Despite a cashpoint getting knackered thirty years ago, capitalism is still with us, now more voracious than ever and busily transforming the opposition into smaller versions of itself. I don't know if one broken cashpoint achieved anything, whether it made some worthwhile point about the nature of the beast, or even caused anyone to question anything which needed questioning. That act of nocturnal sabotage may well have achieved some of this, but it also dropped one of my housemates in the shit, and probably further galvanised the authoritarian resolve of some men in suits who tend to regard anyone not in a suit as a potentially dangerous anarchist. So whichever way you look at this one, there was never really anything much to look at.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Who's Who in The Aztecs

This was written back in 2007 and originally appeared in issue five of Paul Castle's excellent Shooty Dog Thing eZine. It's reproduced here due to popular request (relatively speaking) and because I didn't have anything else lined up for this week's Englishman in Texas.

As something of a pedant where Postclassic Central Mexican culture is concerned, I am often forced to apply my boot to the TV screen when some supposedly authoritative documentary fails to make the distinction between Zacatenco and Tlatilco pottery phases or tries to pass off post-conquest folklore as legitimate pre-conquest mythic history (I'm looking at you, Michael Wood). What seems particularly galling is that with such an impressive body of academic study now available, even in 2007 your average television presenter is still apparently unable to achieve the high standard of what is essentially a 1960s kid's programme. I'm referring of course to John Lucarotti's Doctor Who story The Aztecs.

The Aztecs is set in the Central Mexican city of Tenochtitlan in the year 1507 (and absolutely not 1430 as has been erroneously suggested) at the height of a culture speaking the language we know as Nahuatl. Inevitably The Aztecs is not perfect - the people in question were called Mexica rather than Aztecs (it's a long story); some aspects of set design favour Teotihuacano and Tilantongo styles over those of Tenochtitlan; a few minor theological points are fumbled; and the Nahuatl x is pronounced sh (as in sherry), so names like Yetaxa and Tlotoxl should be pronounced Yetasha and Tlotoshl - but given that the Mexica would hardly have been speaking pseudo-Shakespearean English in the first place, it's probably not worth writing to your MP about this last point.

However, these quibbles are easily ignored given the limitations of anthropological and archaeological knowledge in 1964, the restrictions of the BBC budget, and not least the fact that John Lucarotti's script revealed a genuinely sympathetic understanding of its setting. The otherwise mighty Kate Orman reintroduced the Doctor to Mexico in her novel The Left Handed Hummingbird, and whilst her writing was evidently inspired by a wealth of thorough research, I feel this was somewhat undermined by a less objective take on the subject, particularly with regard to her portrayal of Huitzilopochtli (the much revered God and culture hero) as a sort of nuclear powered Freddie Kruger. John Lucarotti's tale on the other hand presents an inordinately complex moral argument without recourse to easy solutions, and as such remains the more satisfying story to my mind.

When writing The Aztecs, John Lucarotti's only moment of weakness remains his puzzling decision to give his characters names which just sort of sound a bit Aztecy without bearing anything beyond a passing resemblance to true Nahuatl linguistics. Which finally brings me to the point of this article, namely seeing if it's possible to shoehorn the names of Lucarotti's characters into something conducive to translation...

Autloc (Muddy Waters) - Alleged High Priest of Knowledge whose general dress and conduct suggest affiliation to the Quetzalcoatl cult, although more as a senior religious instructor than a fully qualified man of the cloth. Autloc appears to be a vague phonetic anagram of Tlaloc, the rain God whose name is sometimes loosely translated as Pulp of the Earth from tlal-li (earth or land) and -oc (suffix denoting on or adjacent to) - although this interpretation is no less contested than any others that have been offered. If we take au- to be synonymous with the a- of a-tl (water), this being the only realistic available stem (auh is the particle and, then, well, or but, none of which would carry any meaning in this context) we seem to get something equivalent to Pulp of the Earth and Water which immediately brings to mind the legendary blues artist. Well, perhaps not immediately but if you've got any better ideas then I sure would like to hear them.

Cameca (Holes) - Regal Lady with a more than passing interest in William Hartnell's buns. Try as I might, I'm unable to find anything within Frances Karttunen's Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl which might allow for a less weird translation. Unfortunately this leads me to conclude that it can only be Holes, extrapolating this from the name of Amecameca (a town at the southern end of the Valley of Mexico) meaning Water Holes by virtue of the prefix am- pertaining to water.

Chapal (Grasshopper) - Architect and designer of the garden in which William Hartnell delivers an impressive oh shit! face having unwittingly accepted Cameca's proposal of marriage. Although only mentioned in passing, Chapal is ironically one of the few characters sporting an unambiguously credible Nahuatl name. Whilst John Lucarotti spells it Chapal in his novelisation, it is difficult to take this for anything other than Chapul meaning Grasshopper. A pedant might question such an interpretation based on the lack of the customary absolutive suffix -in (by which grasshopper is ordinarily written as chapul-in) to which I would testily cite the example of Atonal, ruler of the town of Coixtlahuaca circa 1458 whose name is similarly bereft of said suffix. Why Chapal should be so named is ambiguous. Either he was a native of Chapultepec (Grasshopper Hill) situated on the western bank of the lake in which the Mexica built their city, or he was a balding boggle-eyed gentleman given to dispensing inscrutable wisdom to David Carradine types. Which seems less likely.

Ixta (Face Dad) - Brave (or perhaps somewhat foolhardy) Jaguar Knight who dared to take on the mighty gob punching power of Ian "let's have a fight" Chesterton. Whether by accident or design, his name represents an unambiguous composite of ix-tli (meaning face, surface or eyes) and ta-tli (father), despite losing the absolutive -tli suffix (see also Chapal). Although Looks Like A Father might be an equally valid interpretation, Face Dad seems somehow fitting in the context of both a television programme broadcast in 1964 and a sharp dressed cat who might be considered swingin' Tenochtitlan's very own precursor to Michael Caine.

Perfect Victim, The - Okay, so we don't actually discover his name, which probably means it's something like Dave or Gordon.

Tlotoxl (Hawk something or other) - Clearly a high-ranking priest of the Tezcatlipoca cult, and a man at the peak of his profession who surely deserved a show of his own. His name might almost be an anagram of Xolotl (meaning dog, twin or monster - take your pick), but is otherwise rendered largely impenetrable by kak-handed application of Nahuatl grammar. The stem tlo- derives from tlo-tli (hawk) but the rest is anyone's guess. Possibly his parents were idiots whose general ineptitude inspired their clumsily monikered offspring to do better, as indeed he did. Whatever one might think of Tlotoxl, he clearly knew his theological onions, and it seems unfair to brand him as superstitious given that, unlike Autloc, he was at least able to tell the difference between a living God and a 1960s school teacher.

Tonila (Warmth of the Sun) - Young priest and possibly an initiate of the Quetzalcoatl cult. His name renders a perfect translation of tonal-li (solar heat, summer, day, or even soul) providing it's pronounced in whatever accent the Mexica regarded as equivalent to Cornish or perhaps Birminghamese. Given that there is no other etymological accounting for his name, it therefore seems likely that young Tonila was of rustic ancestry and may even have arrived in Tenochtitlan half expecting the streets to be paved with gold.

Yetaxa (Good Father Poo) - Deceased clergyman prone to transgender reincarnation as a lady. Blood from a stone is easier than extricating meaning from the title of said gentleman, and even the somewhat unlikely offering here is reliant upon a dubious (although not unheard of) muted c pronunciation of yec-tli (meaning something good or clean) combinated with ta-tli (father) and xayo-tl (dregs or excrement) as the word would sound coming from the lips of Elvis Presley. Aside from the wisdom of reincarnating oneself as someone who is singularly unable to name even one of the thirteen heavens and seems shaky on even the most basic theological truisms, you would think the first thing Yetaxa might have done upon finding himself reborn would have been to choose a better name. Further to which, we are once again compelled to wonder how Autloc (witness to this supposed reincarnation) came to be High Priest of Knowledge when clearly he would have been better suited to the role of High Priest of Just Saying the First Thing that Comes into Your Head.

Friday, 4 September 2015

DVDs, Novelties, Men's Underwear

All the time I lived in London I never attended Gay Pride. I had no objection to Gay Pride. I simply dislike public spectacle, the noise, the hullabaloo, the taking four hours to get anywhere. London is a lot of people crammed into a relatively small space, and I never saw the appeal of seeking out pockets of even stronger concentration, regardless of whose flag had been run up the pole this time.

My friend Rob and I both went along to a Latino festival in Burgess Park, Camberwell, drawn by our mutual interest in the culture. He'd lived in Cuba and I had visited Mexico a couple of times. Research undertaken by the University of London back in 2011 reported a figure of around 113,000 Latinos living in the capital, more than enough for a decent festival and the park was accordingly packed. We wandered around for a bit, drank beer, watched a few reggaeton acts, and ate bowls of what was probably sudado, a sort of fishy tomato soup thing Rob had enjoyed in Cuba and which was as delicious as he had promised. It was a nice afternoon, but as usual I always felt I should probably be having more fun than I actually was, and I found myself irritated by the presence of the ubiquitous Time Out subscribers whose presence would always turn any public event into a sea of yapping sandal-footed wankers in felt festival hats and ironic T-shirts.

The same people would have spent the week getting paid far too much, mooning around their absurdly priced glass dwelling boxes in Hoxton or wherever, and just thinking about website design for a living. In the evening they meet up to drink beer with wedges of lime plugging up the necks of their bottles, and they talk about how great it is to live in London, and the richness of their shared cultural experience, and then they all look in the latest issue of Time Out to see which fresh cultural experiences are to be had this coming weekend. I've never understood this need to find events with which to fill one's time. I've never had a problem working out what I want to do, because I'm already interested in things.

The Latino festival was okay, but as I say I've never been a fan of crowds gathered for public spectacle; and yet having said that, public spectacle is a different animal here in San Antonio, possibly because I'm older and less inherently cantankerous than was once the case, but also because Texan population density is a fraction of what it is in London. The crowds are less aggravating, happily bereft of Time Out subscribers, and for most of the year it's too hot for anyone to make a serious nuisance of themselves. It isn't that America doesn't have its own representatives of the annoying community, but thankfully most of them seem to be concentrated in New York.

Anyway, it was the 4th of July and we had already wandered around Alamo Heights waving flags, or else watching neighbours pushing flag waving children along in carts. I wore my Lone Star shirt, sewn from material patterned like the state flag, purchased second hand and almost certainly originating from either a gas station or some restaurant chain. We ate free tacos, petted baby goats, and it was fun. Afternoon rolled around and we decided to go and take a look at the Gay Pride event going on at Crockett Park down on Main.

Reading that paragraph back to myself, I wonder what differentiates me from the overmoneyed London culturevores taking holiday after holiday in other people's life experience, and I suppose nothing at all is the honest answer; but on the other hand I live here, so I have a vested interest in the general level of tolerance and diversity occurring in my adopted city. I like to believe that I live in a place where people are customarily good to each other, regardless of whatever factors may appear to divide them. So far I have found this to be generally true, with those persons to the contrary numbering amongst an unfortunately vocal but thankfully tiny minority. So, having moved to the sort of urban space in which public events aren't always a complete headache, and in some cases may even deliver the sort of fun promised on the flyers, Bess and myself decided to go and see what was happening with Gay Pride.

Just past Hogwild Records, Main Avenue seems to be the gay district - if that's quite the right term - at least in so much as it has a couple of gay clubs identified with rainbow decor. Also there is at least one adult entertainment store selling DVDs, novelties, and mens' underwear. It actually has the words mens' underwear painted on the side of the building, and each time we drive past I hear the words in my mind's ear as though read aloud with a certain lurid intonation by Vic Reeves; and I still can't help but think of novelties as hand-buzzers, whoopee cushions, squirt-flowers and the like. I suppose mens' underwear must refers to studded leather pants as probably sported by that cop from the Village People.

We drove down Main and two muscular young men waved at us from outside another store selling mens' underwear, which by coincidence is all that the young men were wearing. They seemed pretty happy, and so we waved back. Then we couldn't find a parking space and had to return the way we came and retrace our footsteps - or at least our tyre tracks - passing the waving underwear men a second time but now on foot. They still seemed happy, despite the heat, and it dawned on me that they were engaged in drumming up trade for the store. I hoped they were being paid well for it, given the intense heat.

The crowds became more fulsome and more flamboyant as we approached Crockett Park, though mostly sticking to the shade of the buildings on the west side of Main. The Supreme Court had ruled to legalise same-sex marriage across the entire country on Friday, June the 26th, just two weeks earlier. I hadn't really been following either the news or that specific aspect closely, but I had the impression it came somewhat out of the blue. When all you've heard on the subject is a few months of fuckwitted windbags weighing in on how something which affects them in no sense whatsoever is somehow a violation of their human rights, a government body actually doing the right thing can come as quite a shock. It felt like a victory for common sense, specifically a victory against the prevailing expectation of all future news following a downwards and increasingly conservative curve. So there seemed to be an elevated sense of excitement in the air, like we now knew that the fuckers could be beaten, and more importantly that we could once again be considered a valid collective term. We were maybe not so divided after all.

The park was cordoned off behind chain-link fencing with a long queue outside. There was an entrance fee. This initially struck me as surely contrary to the spirit of the enterprise, but we took our place in the line. An old guy in a Stetson stood on the opposite side of the road, squinting at us in the scorching sunlight and holding a placard informing us that homosexual marriage is evil. I looked around, realising I had been expecting worse, truckloads of Westboro Baptist level nutters with megaphones and buckets of human piss ferried in to fight the good fight against basic intelligence, but there was just the one guy. I hoped this was closer to the reality of the opposition than that which is regularly communicated by a hysterical media, but it's sometimes difficult to tell. Some people ducked out of the queue, crossing the street to engage with our token protester, either to see if they could talk some sense into him, or else to take a look at what happens when a person grows up unable to tell the difference between opinion and fact. He smiled and chatted but seemed a little ill at ease, which was nice.

Paying to get in struck me as odd, at least until we were inside and I realised that an entrance fee would at least serve to deter anyone turning up for the sake of causing trouble. The atmosphere in the park was happy and relaxed, with no-one really giving too much of a shit about guys kissing or the more extreme examples of wardrobe surrealism. Stalls were arranged all around the periphery, but most of them seemed to be dull financial concerns, insurance and the like. This is something I have come to expect here in America, where money is much more of a thing than it was on the other side of the Atlantic, at least in my experience. Food and drinks were to be had, both entailing a peculiar system of purchasing vouchers at one stall then exchanging these for beer or tacos at another. I have no idea how this worked or who was to benefit, but I suppose maybe it kept all of the festival cash in one place.

Anyway, not having any great need of specifically homosexual life insurance, we purchased refreshments and found some shade from which to watch what was going on with the stage. It wasn't really anything spectacular - a couple of drag acts lip syncing to hi-energy songs under the scorching midday heat. They weren't even pretending hard enough to come equipped with a fake microphone, and may as well have just been people in the crowd for all the difference it made. Call me conservative, but I tend to think a drag act really has to do something beyond just showing up in a dress, and I am disinclined to applaud anything quite so peripheral as skilled application of eyeliner.

The drag acts were followed by a rap duo - a man and a butch woman. Bass pounded across the stage, slow and low with skittery bounce hi-hats and the two of them prowling back and forth, trading lines, throwing up the signs, and generally they were pretty tight. Unfortunately the crowd didn't quite seem to know what to make of them, but I went to the front regardless and dutifully stood nodding my head like an indulgent uncle. I've been listening to southern rap for nearly two decades, but this was the first time I'd stood in front of it, and it did not disappoint. It was nice to see so many unfortunate stereotypes demolished in the space of a minute. The duo did a couple of numbers, and I failed to catch their names, and next thing they were off the stage.

Now there was to be a mass wedding with numerous couples filling the stage to be conjoined in holy matrimony, or just matrimony if you're either a pronounced atheist or a religious extremist. These were same-sex couples, in case that needs stating. It was a spectacle, and that was the point, to show that despite everything it was really happening. However, regardless of blows struck or flags waved, none of this felt like a deeply political act, at least not to me, which is probably a good thing. Of course, being heterosexual, it might be pointed out that I'd never really had a horse in this particular race, so whatever Gay Pride means to me will probably be negligible if not actually irrelevant. On the other hand, living my daily life in a largely heterosexual world, Gay Pride should seem weird and astonishing, and yet it doesn't because it's really just people, whichever way you look at it. It almost felt ordinary, just as it should.

I'm not sure whether this means I've personally got over some lurking nugget of inner prejudice, or whether society in general has finally grown up, at least in our corner of Texas.

As the wedding wrapped up, Bess and I decided we had seen as much as we needed given how hot the day was turning out, even in the shade. We left the site and walked back up Main with those others who had also had enough of the sun.

'Turn away from your sin,' suggested an old coot perched on a seat outside some eating place, although he suggested it quietly in case anyone heard. It was almost funny to realise that he was the weirdo now, this guy and his ideological ally with the placard. He was the one who had failed to understand the working of our world and human society. He was out of step with the rest of us.

It felt really good to know that.