Le wifi antibois

Tonight I’m staying on the Côte d’Azur, extremely annoyed at the quality of the wifi access.

This is the end of my first full day in Antibes. I’ve never been here before: coming here was entirely Angela’s idea. I’m not sure I had even heard of it.

I had always assumed that I would need to be ludicrously wealthy even to think about staying on the Côte d’Azur. That impression was reinforced last night when I was wandering the streets. They were full of yacht hire shops, and expensive wine shops that guarantee immediate wine delivery to your yacht.

Here are some of the yachts I saw today:

I also spent some time in the Picasso museum, which is a hilltop seaside castle where Picasso stayed for a few months in 1923. But most of the artworks here seemed to be from the 40s; they were vastly more cheerful and silly than some of the upsetting things I saw in the Centre Pompidou.

I suppose I should recap. I left Amsterdam on Friday and caught the train to Paris, where I stayed three nights — two full days. The first day I hung out in the Louvre, mostly looking at antiquities, although I did check in to make sure that nothing bad had happened to the Mona Lisa. (It was fine. Disappointing.)

I spent the second day relaxing and enjoying Paris. The highlight: visiting the Centre Pompidou for the first time. I spent most of my time on Level 5, looking at the modern art collection. I’m not recording my reaction here, for fear of appearing like a facile idiot, but some of it was breathtaking, some was hilarious, and some of it was fabulously nasty and unpleasant. A good afternoon.

The next day, I left Paris on the TGV, travelling to Marseilles. The trip was incredibly fast: from the window seat, it seemed like the trains travelling in the opposite direction were going to take my face off. Sitting opposite me was a fantastically elegant woman in her 70s, and we ended up chatting for a while.

We talked about the weather, about all her languages, and about my job and my plans. She was incredibly urbane and charming. And just when we were a few minutes from Marseilles, she gave me some advice. Watch yourself in Marseilles, she said. Make sure you don’t get robbed. It’s full of blacks and Arabs.

Leaving France tomorrow. A long, slow train trip to Verona. I’ve been there before, back in the 90s, with Robert. After that, a week travelling around northern Italy, then a few days in Rome, probably, then two weeks in Sorrento. I’ve already booked an AirBnB right in the middle of town, just near Tasso Square.

And that’s this post finished. But the wifi here is too slow for me to upload it. I’ll have to wait till I’m on the train tomorrow, for God’s sake. (Update: there was no wifi on the train tomorrow.)

Reading: God, A Human History by Reza Aslan. Not only is he kind of hot, he was once sacked from CNN by describing Donald Trump as a piece of shit on Twitter.

61.6%

11.30 PM

I bounce my arse over to the next stool at the bar, next to the American boy with the goatee. His name is Aaron. I haven’t spoken to him yet. It’s noisy here, and so I have to shout to be heard by the pretty South American barman. His name is Hector.

“Hey. Can I tell you something important?”

Hector, Aaron, Joost and Tony are listening, I think. They’re surprised to hear me talking. I’ve been here for an hour or so, but I’ve been too shy to talk to anyone directly. Apart from Hector, obviously.

I’m really shit at gay bars.

Hector replies: “No. You can’t.”

“Never mind that right now,” I say. “You know I’m from Australia, right? Well, we’ve been having this long postal survey thing there to see if gay people are allowed to get married.”

Hector shrugs.

“The result is being announced in half an hour.”


Before I left on this trip, I thought that when I landed in England, I would for the first time be in a jurisdiction where I was permitted to marry. But that’s not true, of course.

Holland was the first country to legalise gay marriage. The world’s first gay marriages happened here in April 2001. Sixteen and a half years ago. And I was in Amsterdam for a few days in 2008.

Which is why some of the people at the bar just assumed that we had equal marriage already.


The bar has wifi, of course, but it’s not great, and like a lot of pub and restaurant wifi networks here, it requires you to check in on Facebook before you connect. It’s a security nightmare. I’m expecting lots of spam from here on in.

I don’t think I can stream video on this network, so I’m refreshing Twitter repeatedly to find out what the result is.

My friend Simon said all along that he was hoping for a result in the sixties. That seemed very optimistic to me. Here at the bar, people are assuming that it will be a YES vote. “But there’s Brexit,” I say, “and Donald Trump. Unexpected things happen.”


This trip was planned before the postal survey was announced. I remember realising that I would be on my own when the result came in, and that that would be terrible if the news was bad. Which is why I’m at the Spijker Bar, drinking water and horrible Dutch beer.

It’s been a horrible few months. You all know that. I’ve been sleeping badly, full of rage and anxiety. I’m a wealthy middle-aged white cis male, with a supportive family and a supportive workplace. Other people have had a much worse time than me. It’s still been pretty bad though.

The NO campaign was vile and so mendacious, and disgustingly transphobic. I won’t be forgiving them in a hurry. And I won’t forget about the millions of dollars that conservative Sydney churches spent to get their lies disseminated.


The chief statistician does a lot of throat-clearing, apparently. It’s a big day for him. So by 12:03 AM, we still don’t have a result. I tweet anxiously —

— only to find my Twitter stream full of people swearing in all caps at the statistician as well.

I couldn’t see him of course. But he had a big smile on his face; I think the people watching him would have suspected at least that he had good news to deliver.


Sorry I wasn’t there to celebrate with you. It sounded like it was amazing. I’m having fun, but I really miss you all as well.

Wachten op het resultaat

Nothing much to report from Amsterdam, really. I’ve been sleeping in and wandering the streets since I got here, really. Which is more or less what I was hoping to do. Reading, listening to podcasts, trying to avoid the local food. That sort of thing.

The highlight of my stay so far was the Rijksmuseum. It was closed for renovation for nearly ten years, so the last time I visited was in the 1990s. Back then, it was kind of baffling. A maze of white rooms full of furniture and porcelain, organised chronologically, I suppose, but basically incomprehensible. After the renovation, the furniture and porcelain is still there, of course, but it’s all organised much more clearly and comprehensibly. And there’s a Rijksmuseum app, of course, with any number of guided tours on it, which helped me to find and appreciate the best bits of the collection. Tomorrow, mood permitting, I’ll spend the morning at the Van Gogh Museum.

Just under 12 hours before the announcement of the postal survey result. It happens at midnight here. I’m a bit apprehensive about being alone when the news breaks, to be honest, so I’ll be spending the evening with my own people, at the Spijker Bar in Kerkstraat.

Leaving here on Friday and spending a couple of days in Paris, which is a city I find a bit intimidating. Then off to some new places in Southern France and Italy, I think. I’ll work out the details later.

Phase II

 

I’m in Amsterdam now, in a darkened pub, drinking Amstel and typing this post on my phone with a Microsoft foldable keyboard. I’ll upload it when I get back to my hotel.

It’s my fourth time here: apart from Tokyo, this is the foreign city that I’ve spent the most time in. It’s still amazingly familiar. Every street, every square brings back memories.

I plan to keep most of those memories to myself. I came here twice in the 90s with Robert. The first time was the first time I ever came to Europe. Robert and I caught the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. We arrived after a sleepless and unpleasant ferry ride, and the first thing we saw was a guy rollerskating beside a canal, freezing his arse off in tiny latex shorts. We immediately decided to stay for a week. The second time, we stayed here for two weeks over Christmas and New Year. It snowed. It was magic.

We were young then, and we had a fantastic time. But that’s all I intend to say. On my way here I walked past the sites of some of our best exploits. I regret nothing.

In 2008, I stayed here by myself for a few days. According to that trip’s travel blog, I basically spent a couple of days wandering the city, drinking beer and only occasionally wandering into a museum or art gallery.

This time I’m staying here for a week, but I have no idea what I’m doing after that. I’ll have to make a decision tomorrow, I think. Southern France, and then straight to Italy, probably. I’ll sit in a café with my computer tomorrow morning and do some proper planning for the next few weeks. Suggestions welcome: feel free to comment on this post.

My last few days in England ended up being terribly busy: I really should have arranged to stay a few days longer. I had a lovely evening in Brighton with Stephen and David. I went to Manchester to meet the inimitable Simon Caterall and to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street. I also met charming friend-of-the-podcast Colin Neal, had dinner with Sarah G, lunch with Peter G, and tea with Angela, Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth, who made me incredibly welcome on my last night in London. And I experienced Southern Rail in a way that will help me to truly appreciate the jokes they make about it on the News Quiz.

Tomorrow: nothing. Reading and chilling. After that, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum since the first time I came to Amsterdam.

Watching: Season 1 of The Good Place. For the third time. And it’s still brilliant.

My own bodyweight in chips

Sleep, mostly

I’m in a pub just outside Euston Station, waiting for a train to Manchester. I’ve got a bit over an hour to wait; I think I overestimated how long it would take me to get here. The pub doesn’t have wifi — I’ll have to upload this post when I get on the train* — but it does have bitter.

I arrived in London last Thursday morning. Before that, I had flown about 15 hours from Sydney to Dubai, had had about two hours in Dubai Airport, and had flown eight hours from Dubai to London. In first class — did I mention I was flying first class? — you can lie completely flat and sleep, and I so on the way to Dubai, I managed about nine hours of sleep, at about the same time as I would have slept if I had stayed in Sydney. By the time I landed at Gatwick at 6:40 AM, I had been awake for about 12 hours.

A car picked me up at the airport — first class — and drove me to the hotel in Whitechapel. It took about 2½ hours, with the traffic getting heavier and heavier as we approached our destination.

When I got to the hotel, they told me that the room wouldn’t be ready for about 4½ hours. I had wanted a nap and a shower; instead I ended up wandering down to the river and walking to the Embankment.

At just before 11 AM, I found a pub. One of the things I look forward to most in England is the warm, flat beer that clueless Australians used to enjoy mocking. I’m having one now. There was also a burger and chips, predictably terrible, but the beer was fantastic.

Got back to the hotel, waited half an hour, and then went up to the room. I know you’re supposed to try to stay awake until bedtime, and I know that sleeping all day in an exciting foreign city is a terrible waste, but I was asleep by 2:30 PM. I woke briefly at 4:30, and then slept all the way through till 3:30 AM.

As a result, it took me a couple of days to recover from the jetlag. I kept waking up at 1 or 2 or 3 AM. On Saturday, I accidentally slept in until 11:30 AM. Since then, I’ve been fine.

People to do

This Friday, I’m flying to Amsterdam: I’m only spending eight nights in the UK. Turns out, it’s not really going to be enough. There a lot more people to see than I expected.

So far, I’ve had a lovely breakfast at the Wolseley with Peter Griffiths, and a fantastic pub lunch with Peter and his long-time housemate Rebecca. I wandered through the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain with Angela Cartwright, and had afternoon tea with Angela and her family — Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth. I spent a lovely morning having breakfast with my former student Ian Goh. And I caught the train to Brighton to spend the afternoon with Stephen Kennedy and David Smith, followed by a pub roast, followed by beers in various Brighton pubs. I just left Brighton this morning.

(I’ve also uploaded an episode of Bondfinger and an episode of Flight Through Entirety. I wrote some of the show notes in Green Park, where I took the photo at the head of this post.)

Soon I’ll be heading up to Manchester, to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street (Queer As Folk, Cucumber), and to meet Simon Caterall for the first time, after months of fun interaction on Facebook. And when I get back, I’m catching up with Sarah G, and (hopefully) a couple of other people too. As well as catching up with everyone else one more time.

So it’s going to continue to be busy until I leave on Friday. After that, there will be weeks of travelling on my own. Should be fun.

Reading: Zealot, by Reza Aslan. (Saw a video promoting his new book about God. Turns out he’s hot.)

Hello World!

Welcome to Guns and Frocks.

I’m writing this post in the First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport, just before catching a flight to London. The last time I was here was in 2008, the last time I took long service leave, and I was about to start a month-long trip travelling around Europe by train. I was flying economy, of course, but Calvin had used his point acquisition superpower to get me into this lounge before my flight.

But this trip will be much grander. Calvin has levelled up, and so I’m flying first class. And instead of a month-long trip, it’ll be two months. I’m spending a week in England first, catching up with friends, and then flying to Amsterdam. After that, nothing much has been decided. I want to go back to Sorrento and spend more than a week there, visiting ruins and museums and things, and chilling out and reading and drinking limoncello. But apart from that, I have no concrete plans.

I’m travelling on my own, so this is my diary. I hope you’ll check in with me from time to time. I’ll put up some photos and talk about what I’m up to. Feel free to comment on my posts. I’d love to hear from you. And I’d be very happy to hear your suggestions about places to visit; I’ve really got no idea right now.

What to expect from Season 9

With the debut of Doctor Who season 9 only weeks away, it’s time to ask ourselves what we can expect to see from this exciting new series of Doctor Who.

  1. THE DALEKS ARE BACK! For the first time in 5 years, and for the first time ever on TV in colour, the Daleks (and their gorgeous blonde secretarial staff) will explode onto our screen in a thrilling season opener. Aubrey Woods guest stars as a heavily-made up Dalek collaborator with a terrible, terrible secret.
  2. THE RETURN OF THE MASTER! We’ve all being waiting for the return of the Doctor’s nemesis since last year’s season finale, and all reports suggest that we won’t be disappointed. The renegade Time Lord will appear in no less than two stories this season, as crazy and sexy as ever (although a little thicker around the waist).
  3. PENIS-SHAPED MONSTERS! Doctor Who has a glorious history of alien menaces shaped like human genitalia, from the Brains of Morpho to the terrifying Rills — and this year will be no exception. Not even a yellow shower curtain will make this horrifying guest star look acceptable enough to take home to meet your parents.
  4. ALLEGORIES ABOUT RACISM! Nothing sends the kiddies scurrying behind the sofa faster than leaden allegories about the evils of something very obviously evil. So when the Doctor and his companion head off to the planet Solos, expect lots of dull, uncontroversial political messages about how bad genocide is. Thank God that our favourite programme has never been guilty of racism, like those shows that other people enjoy.
  5. INGRID PITT’S BREASTS! Such a shame that so few fanboys are even remotely interested.

Doctor Who season 9 will debut on BBC1 on 1 January 1972.

Dear Neato Robotics people,

Dear Neato Robotics people,

My partner and I are the proud owners of one of your robot vacuum cleaners. It’s one of five vacuum cleaners he has bought for the house, and he really loves it. He has named it Alice. It’s something that remains undiagnosed, I’m afraid. Anyway. We soldier on.

He is particularly impressed by the design and performance of the robot vacuum cleaner, and proudly informs me that it cost him only just a little more than 1000 AUD. I’m a bit less impressed with it, I have to admit. It finds it almost impossible to cope with rugs: it snags itself on fringes and loose threads and finds itself unable to move any further. I would have thought that rugs were just the thing you might design a vacuum cleaner to be able to deal with, but what do I know? I’m a Latin teacher, not a fucking engineer.

Another sore point is this. We programme the robot vacuum cleaner to work at night, so that it doesn’t annoy the dogs, and so that we don’t kill ourselves by tripping over it on our way to the fridge. However, when the robot vacuum cleaner inevitably snags itself on a rug or a piece of thread, it is designed to inform its owner of the fact by emitting a persistent, plaintive beeping noise, which continues until the battery runs out.

Now there are reasons I might want to be woken up in the middle of the night and warned repeatedly about something. Perhaps the house is on fire, or the zombie apocalypse is underway, and everyone I have ever loved is dead. But, and don’t take this the wrong way, I just don’t need to be woken and warned because the robot vacuum cleaner is shitting itself about encountering a rug on the floor again.

Still, it’s not all bad news. My partner only needs to bring out one of the other four vacuum cleaners nine or ten times a day, and I still get to trip over it when I wander downstairs at night in order to turn the fucking beeping noise off.

Warmest regards,
Nathan Bottomley.

Guns and Frocks

This adventure was going to require a serious frock.

Paul Cornell, Human Nature, Chapter 1

It’s 18 February 1995. My friends and I are attending Tri(c)on, a Doctor Who convention which is being held at the Parramatta Travelodge in a suburb of Sydney called Rosehill. Mark Strickson is the special guest: he has made the 500-kilometre journey from Armidale, where he is currently studying at the University of New England. He has hilarious things to say about how stunts were performed in the studios at the BBC Television Centre.

One of the items on the programme has already been cancelled. It was called Companion Makeover, presumably in honour of Strickson, but no one is really sure who is running it or what it is supposed to be about. So the organisers have decided to replace it with an intereactive panel called DonaWho, in honour of The Phil Donahue Show, which will end its 26-year run some time later in the year. Like its near namesake, this panel will feature a compere with a radio mic who will wander around the room, soliciting bracing contributions from the audience and creating entertaining conflicts among its members.

Twenty years later, I can’t remember why I was the one given that microphone.

I have already planned what I want to do. I may have worked it out on the train on the way up, if I caught the train, or perhaps the night before if I was driving there in my sprightly yellow roadster known as Carol. In any case, I have a plan. “Ladies and gentlemen”, I probably say, “today I intend to create to set fan against fan, to create a rift in Doctor Who fandom that will echo throughout the ages.”

And I mean it. Today, I will split the audience into two irreconcilable warring factions — not Rills and Drahvins, not Savants and Deons, not Daleks and Thals. This time the factions will be called Guns and Frocks.


The ‘Guns and Frocks’ thing dates back a few years now. I think it’s [Doctor Who novelist] Gareth Roberts who said that Doctor Who needs less guns and more frocks. And it became a very quick shorthand for two rough schools of writing in the Doctor Who novels: one of which was militaristic space opera books that were very serious, and took themselves very seriously; and then at completely the other end of the spectrum, very camp ones that did not take themselves seriously….

Interview with Kate Orman, 2005.

By the begining of February 1995, Virgin Publishing had released 22 original novels in its New Adventures range. The range had started in June 1991, two years after the soft cancellation of the TV series, and one month before the publication of the long-delayed novelisation of the last available Doctor Who story, Battlefield.

The New Adventures were explicitly intended to be the official continuation of the Doctor Who story. They starred Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, reconceived as the dark and mysterious arch-manipulator we barely glimpsed in Remembrance of the Daleks, along with his companion Ace, whose soft-left politics and fascination with chemistry was inexplicably transformed into a hard-right obsession with military hardware and a fascination with killing things.

I remember being disappointed by the New Adventures at the time. Reading a New Adventure took many times longer than watching a Doctor Who story. And it wasn’t something you could enjoy drunkenly with friends. More than that, though: the New Adventures were grim and dark. They introduced uninteresting plot elements early on that demanded the reader’s memory and attention until they were unimpressively slotted into place towards the end of the novel. And they were heavy with continuity. Not fun Hand-of-Sutekh continuity: dull, leaden continuity involving Arc of Infinity or the history of the Earth Empire as established in the Pertwee Era.

There were a few exceptions. My friend Kate Orman had written a book called The Left-Handed Hummingbird, an immensely clever and well-written piece of science fiction. Paul Cornell had written two novels: Timewyrm: Revelation, which had featured a sentient church and a weird mindscape redolent of nostalgia and love for the television programme we had lost, and Love and War, which had introduced the incomparably clever, knowing and hilarious Professor Bernice Summerfield. And Gareth Roberts — who had loved Tom Baker’s Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana nearly as much as I had — whose novel The Highest Science had featured hilarious turtle-shaped aliens, and which would, a million years later, form the basis of the brilliantly entertaining 2009 Easter Special, Planet of the Dead.


Benny grinned at her. ‘My dear Roslyn, frocks are the purpose of life.’ She twirled, her skirt flying out around her, grabbing at her hat. ‘Frocks are what it is all about. Do try to remember that.’

Kate Orman, SLEEPY, Chapter 22

“I’m going to ask you five yes/no questions, and I want you keep count of how many questions where your answer is yes. Ready?”

They are ready, and so I ask them these questions:

  1. Has your enjoyment of a Doctor Who story ever been spoiled by what one of the major characters was wearing?
  2. Have you ever as an adult had to stop yourself from crying while watching a companion’s departure scene?
  3. Do you prefer a companion wearing high heels to one wearing combat boots?
  4. Do you think Delta and the Bannermen is seriously underrated?
  5. Have you ever, in public, in a mixed gathering, impersonated one of the following: Lady Adrasta, Helen A, Count Scarlioni, Harrison Chase, Lady Peinforte or President and Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation Servalan?

“Now I want you to get up and change seats. If you answered yes to zero, one or two of these questions, I want you to sit on this side of the room. You guys are the Guns. But you answered yes to three or more questions, I want you to sit over here. You are the Frocks.”

Fortunately, the audience splits into roughly two equal groups. Here they are, sitting in rows, staring uncomprehendingly at each other across the aisle.


[Nathan] then asked a whole bunch of Who-related questions, trying to determine if there were any real dividing factors. Most factors had people on both sides both agreeing and disagreeing, but some were dividing (opinion on Mel was amazing — the Frocks loved her and the Guns hated her).

The debate was really, really fun and there was no animosity on either side, due to the fun approach.

Robert Smith?, The Frock Homepage, with Gun

Doctor Who is over fifty years old now. And I love it to death. As my friend and fellow-podcaster Richard once said, it can be anything, any story. An elegiac history lesson about sectarian murder. A ludicrous space opera featuring robot monsters and a megalomaniacal Bond villain. A love story across dimensions. An allegory about racism, a rollicking adventure story featuring racism, a story — many stories — in which the Doctor fights against exploitation, oppression, and villains without any sense of humour.

But there are things about Doctor Who that leave me cold. The history of the Time Lords. Harmonising the ridiculously inconsistent stories of the various Dalek factions. Explaining why the Cybermen in Attack look so much like the centuries-later Cybermen of Earthshock. And believing that watching people with guns attacking other people with guns is adult, serious and entertaining.

Here’s what I love. Billy’s sadness when he remembers how little his friends loved and understood him. Tobias Vaughn’s laughter as Zoë destroys his receptionist computer by talking to it in ALGOL. Pertwee’s time flow analogue, made of forks and corks and tea leaves. The Hand of Sutekh. Tom and Lalla effortlessly outshining the dull, unimaginative forces of evil. Beryl Reid’s tango hairdo. Melanie Bush trapped under a crocheted throw-rug, screaming at an advancing toasting fork. Sylv dancing awkwardly with Ray in Wales in 1959. And a Doctor who would “make the villains fall into their own traps, and trick the monsters, and outwit the men with guns. He’d save everybody’s life and find a way to win.”

Those are things, I hope, that both Guns and Frocks can agree on.

No place like London

Well, after a long journey, I’m finally here.

I flew Qantas from Sydney to Hong Kong. Read a book most of the time. The inflight entertainment consisted of VHS videotapes projected onto a screen metres away,  like the entertainment on a coach to Goulburn. In 1990.

I had a window seat, but the aisle seat next to me was free. So I had more room than those rich bastards in business class, and I didn’t have to clamber over anyone to get to the toilet. Result!

I tried to put up another post during my three-hour stopover in Hong Kong airport, but the wi-fi there was third-world standard, and I had left my power adapter thing in my check-in luggage. The business class lounge (thanks again, Calvin) was very nice, but I was determined not to be too jetlagged when I arrived, so I was uncharacteristically abstemious. The food was particularly nice, and I got to have a long, warm shower.

Hong Kong to London was on British Airways. I’m not sure how long it was: I spent all but the last three hours fast asleep, even refusing the first meal service. A free seat next to me again, but the aisle seat was occupied, so I had to clamber over a sleeping woman to get to the toilet. Having the window seat was well worth it, though. What’s more spectacular than London at dawn?

British customs and immigration reluctantly allowed me into the country, and I went straight to the hotel in Earls Court which I had booked online. It’s fairly comfortable and inexpensive, but grimly post-war and English. There’ll be more photos later.

And what a beautiful sunny day it was! Glorious after a week of rain and sweaty humidity. You can probably see how blue the sky was in the photo above.

First I caught up with Angela and Joseph and their kids Alex and Elizabeth. They live in a beautiful house in East Dulwich, a lovely suburb in South London. We wandered down the high street, taking in a street market, visiting a fabulous deli and stopping off at my first English pub this trip. Mmm, warm English beer.

Then I met Peter in town, at the Borders in Charing Cross Road. Headed over to have dinner with Sarah and Gary. It was lovely. Gary was back from his exciting job in Cardiff, so I was lucky to catch up with him at all. Today he flies off to LA for a Doctor Who convention. Also there were some people I haven’t met before: Paul, Simon and Debbie. Simon and Debbie were also off to the convention today; I’m hoping to catch up with Paul again later in the week.

An epic post. I’ll try and make later ones more concise and exotic.