Archive for June, 2008

Two weeks ago I took part in an annual event – the Moonwalk – to raise money for breast cancer causes. Entrants can choose to take part in either the full-marathon or the half-marathon, and there’s a choice between doing the walk in London or Edinburgh.

What’s the difference between this and any other marathon? It’s done at night, and the majority of the participants are walking in highly decorated bras (including the men). The youngest walker was 12 and the eldest was celebrating her 80th birthday at midnight.

My team and I, very sensibly, decided to book a hotel for when we’d finished the walk; so after arriving in Edinburgh mid-afternoon on the Saturday, we dropped off our gear and headed for the nearest Starbucks – which, coincidentally, was on the top floor of a Waterstone’s bookshop. It was a fluke, I swear! 😉 Well fortified with caffeine and toasted fruit bread we headed back to the hotel to change, and then walked for about a mile to get to The Meadows, which was going to be our starting point.

Entrance We entered through the pink balloon decorated gates and were immediately blasted with music from the huge marquee. The area was full of people taking photos of their teams, making last minute adjustments to their bras or costumes, and just generally having a great time gearing up for the event.

There was live music, a massage area, and a temporary tattoo parlour, as well as the food stands where we picked up our pasta and a flapjack to keep us going.

With it being Scotland we did, naturally, have bagpipes as part of the live music. Playing Queen no less. And everyone sang We will rock you with gusto before heading off into the cold, dark Edinburgh night. (I’ll come back to the bit about it being cold.)

We were in the third group, which meant that we had the joy of starting off last – at midnight. We’d had three warmups by this stage and condensation was beginning to form on the inside of my stylish, clear plastic, poncho-like raincoat. Keeps the rain out but, when worn with a bum-bag locked around the waist it also acts like a greenhouse! Keeping heat and moisture in didn’t, strangely, mean we stayed warm. Did I mention that it was cold?

We yelled the countdown and set off, our power-walking techniques hampered by the sheer number of people. It was like a bizarre form of ‘catch-up’, with groups overtaking each other and then being overtaken in turn; spectators cheering encouragement from the sidelines. (The embarrasing point was around mile ten when a teenaged lad whizzed past us, pushing his grandmother in a wheelchair at high speed while we soldiered doggedly on. He looked as if he could do another ten miles at the same speed, no problem).

We did the half-marathon (13.1 miles) and so our route took us from the Meadows, around Holyrood Park (which included walking up and around a large, unlit tump); The Royal Miledown Queens Drive and up the Royal Mile, bra lights flashing and space blankets rustling as we strode. Princes Street to Regent Road to Queen Street – a fair few were flagging by this point; sitting at the side of the road with their trainers off, packets of blister plasters in their hands.

The temperature had dropped even further and all exposed flesh turned rosy with the cold. We sped up, but it only warmed our legs – chests and arms and backs still felt the chill, so around 03:30 we gave in, wrapped our space blankets round our backs, and carried on rustling along the streets. *Tip: get someone to meet you at mile nine or ten with a hot drink*

We saw many a kilted chap on the walk. Edinburgh truly seemed to be a city that never slept; even at 04:30 there were crowds of people staggering along the streets after a night on the town. Some stared at us in bemusement; many cheered us on. And, it has to be said, being cheered on by a braw, brawny man in a kilt does give you a bit of a second or third wind!

We parted ways with the full-marathon walkers just before the ten-mile marker. They carried on to Queensferry Road while we directed our weary selves towards West Coates and the Haymarket. Finally, we were on the last stretch. Which paradoxically felt like the longest leg of the walk. Half a mile from the Meadows, where we’d started, we began to meet people who’d already finished; their medals draped proudly round their necks. This spurred us on to pick up the pace (getting our medals also meant we would be able to go back to the hotel and sleep for 2 hours) and it wasn’t long before the finish was in sight.

FinishlineWe passed through the finish line with a sense of relief that now we could get dressed and warm up. We accepted our medals, glad that we were done but, having been up now for 24 hours straight, we wanted nothing more than to head off to bed.

We would admire our medals, and the fact that we’d done a half-marathon in the doldrums of the night, later.

A shower, two hours of sleep, followed by a cooked breakfast, and we were fighting fit and ready to head back to the station for the journey home to Derbyshire. It was a wonderful, rewarding, tiring, cold experience and definitely something we’d do again.

Just, maybe not next year.

Notes: The first three photos are courtesy of meeshy_meesh on Flickr, the last two courtesy of Spanner_Dan – all under a CC licence.


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Don’t worry – we haven’t abandoned our Britclinics!  We’ve just decided to hold them once a month rather than weekly, to give folks more time to gather questions together, and to leave more room for other posts.

The next formal Britclinic will be on Friday 25th July (the last Friday of the month) but if anyone has any burning questions that can’t wait that long, feel free to bung them in the comments section today and we’ll happily get back to you.  🙂

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The Championships, Wimbledon

Wimbledon, that is. The freshly-cut grass, the polite applause, the strawberries and cream, the rain, the stoic disappointment, the endless queuing…it’s about as British as you can get.

So what is it about Wimbledon? I’m not usually very interested in sport—I’m baffled by cricket and the only thing I know about rugby is that you get points for trying—but I’ve been visiting Wimbledon for about ten years now to watch what is always referred to there as ‘The Championships’.

It’s different from the other Grand Slams (the French, US and Australian Opens) for several reasons. First, it’s the only one played on grass, which is kept to a ruthless standard by the Wimbledon groundskeepers (I’ve actually seen them measuring it). It’s always puzzled me how and why it’s thrived in Britain—the wettest place in the world (no, really, there are tropical rainforests with less rain, I swear). Even a tiny bit of drizzle stops play, because the grass becomes so slippery it’s not fit for purpose. Because of this, a new roof is being built for Centre Court which should keep the moisture off, and allow matches to continue despite the inevitable drizzle.

At Wimbledon, as soon as the umpire declares it to be too rainy, the court is cleared of net, chairs and other furniture, and a cover is pulled over the court by hand in a matter of seconds. Every single action on court, by every member of staff, is absolutely impeccably choreographed—in fact, the ball kids attend an academy where they’re taught exactly what to do, and when to do it. They march onto court in an almost military fashion, and stand with their hands behind their backs, facing away from the court, during breaks in play. The line judges wear Ralph Lauren. No, seriously.

Wimbledon umpires

Tradition is everything at Wimbledon. It’s the only Grand Slam with a dress code for players, who must wear predominantly white outfits (a dislike for which was Andre Agassi’s given reason for not entering the tournament about twenty years ago). There are multiple booths inside selling strawberries and cream (about £2.50 for six strawberries!), champagne, and Pimm’s.

The official patron of the All England Lawn Tennis Club is the Queen. When she is present in the Royal Box on Centre Court, players are required to curtsey to her (or to the Prince of Wales) as they enter or leave the court.

Outside the tournament grounds is Wimbledon Common, home to the Wombles. They often entertain the Queue, pose for photos, and generally confuse people who’ve never heard of them before.


Ah, the Queue. Another thing that makes Wimbledon so unique is the large number of tickets available for purchase on the day. The downside is that you have to queue for them (see, I told you it was very British. No one queues like we do!). I’ve only ever queued for ground tickets (admission to the ground and the outer courts), which usually requires arriving by about 6.30am. Gates open at about 10.30, and play begins on the outer courts at 12. If you want show court tickets (Centre, No.1 and No.2), you’ll generally have to queue overnight. This involves taking a tent and staking out your place before the close of play on the previous day. The Queue is kept in line by volunteer Stewards (in blazers and straw hats), and entertained, at least from 8am, by Radio Wimbledon. Newspapers, often carrying freebies like collapsible chairs, radios, or rain ponchos, are sold to the Queue, there are fast food stands with wonderful, life-giving supplies of caffeine, and there’s usually at least one breakfast cereal or fruit juice being given away.

All this effects a general air of camaraderie, and because we’re British, it actually adds to the experience if it rains. No really, it does. So long as Cliff Richard doesn’t start singing, anyway. Queuers are given stickers to proudly proclaim their stoicism—I have a collection saying, “I’ve queued at Wimbledon in the rain!”. So long as the drizzle has dried up by the time play starts, no one really minds all that much.

Because, really, Wimbledon’s like a lot of other things in Britain. It’s full of tradition, pride, and dashed hopes (oh Tim Henman, why couldn’t you win just once?). It’s expensive, exciting, and baffling. And if we let the weather get in the way, why, we’d just never get anything done at all.

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I grew up a sand-grain’s blow away from a beautiful beach on the north west coast of England.  We didn’t go all that often, but several times during the summer holidays Mum would gather a picnic together and we’d walk through the fields, the pine forest, and the sand dunes, and then onto the beach itself which was mile after mile of fine golden sand.  We used to spot toadstools, rare birds and red squirrels in the pinewoods, but just occasionally ‘wildlife’ of a different sort would appear, in the shape of gentlemen with rather, um, unusual sexual tastes who would suddenly spring out from behind pine trees or sand dunes clad in not much more than a knotted hankie.  😉

Mum and I moved swiftly on, but I wondered what would happen if anyone decided to take matters into their own, er, hands.  So I immortalised the most blatant of the exhibitionists in a new little short story called ‘Beach Nuts’, in which a gay couple faced with a nutter do just that.  The story has just appeared in Gay Flash Fiction and you can read it for free by visiting the zine and clicking on the ‘current issue’ link at the top of the main page.

I hope you enjoy it, but I should warn you that 1. it’s male/male; 2. it’s flash in both senses of the word *g* and 3. it’s very daft!

Oh – and the floppy pink hat was real 😛

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It shouldn’t escape your notice that a number of the authors here write gay literature, or what is often termed as ‘m/m romance’. Some write specifically for a female audience but many hope that gay men will also enjoy their work. As I came to do this largely by accident, I queried both readers and writers as to why they enjoyed these books. This is an abbreviated version of an article I originally wrote for forbiddenfruitzine.com. Even if the subject doesn’t interest you, you may find some of the answers I received surprising.

So why do you write this magical stuff?

The question deserved an answer though what caught my attention was the person asking was female and had used the word magical. I decided to explore this more fully. Yes, m/m romances do well! Strange then that not so long ago many shook their head in refusal or disbelief because they said ‘There was no market for this sort of work’. The simple question of why straight women write or read this type of literature brought forth some answers, most of which were completely unexpected. Some women could only reply that they found it arousing. That may be true but it begs the question of ‘why’. Some regularly read these works without finding it stirring. Others say it stirs their emotions only.

Most apparent is that if there are any women out there feeling awkward regarding their choice, they can rest assured they are not alone in their appreciation. I had already noted that most of these books had men who might well share intimacy with other men (sexual or otherwise) but they can be as soft or butch (I hesitate to say hard!) as the writer dictates and the reader desires. They could be gentle souls, gazing out a cruel world or have an in ‘your face, don’t mess with me or someone I love or you’ll be sorry’ attitude. So why do women read this ‘magical’ stuff?

The answers came thick and fast. Some women felt drawn to it from watching series such as Queer as Folk. In this, they often celebrated the skill of the writer. The drama drew them in as well as the characters and the obvious display of men letting go when it came to sex. Some had a favourite film star growing up who had come out of the proverbial closet later in life. Some had seen a film with a scene that affected them. Antonio Banderas seems to have something to answer for, for his ‘Pedro Almodovar’ films and Interview with a Vampire. Yet could you think of a more confident, secure image of a man. Male/male fan fic, slash art and yaoi all have their influence.

Still the reasons kept coming. Angst-ridden males seem to do well in female fiction. Although they like a happy conclusion, they don’t mind seeing their heroes suffer to get there. Some writers like to put their male characters into as sticky a situation as possible and watch them squirm, and their readers roll over in ecstasy with them. For some women, they are simply eliminating the sex that doesn’t interest them (although lesbians also read m/m books). Equally, they may enjoy male/female stories. Primarily though, they want to think about ‘men’ and it seems peculiar that in an age where men often watch girl-on-girl action and find that perfectly acceptable, they can act so negatively at the idea of males. Even if you’re not interested, why let it bother you? In this, some women write or leave these books lying around just to ‘get their own back’ on the straight guys out there. Some have gay family members or friends; they started out in this line because they wanted to write something for them.

The concept allows writers to go where they might not otherwise be able to, whether that is a character’s psyche or a representation of a physical here-to ‘male-dominated’ arena. They can also explore what some would consider ‘tasteless’ subjects if applied to female characters. It creates a new dynamic. Some see the latest female warrior type portrayed as asexual. She has to be tough and unfeeling to compete with the men. Women can be tough and still ‘feel’. They wish to equalise the playing field and create men who get as emotional and as hot and bothered as them.

There are women who have experienced negative relationships with a male member of the family. Possibly, they had a stern, unapproachable father, or one that couldn’t be present enough. In a world where women can be more openly caring — and I don’t mean lesbians but women generally will freely kiss and hug each other hello and goodbye — to see one man caring for another can have a deep emotional affect, particularly if the man is straight because that shows he’s secure enough not to care what others are thinking.

One of my personal favourites is that some believe that if one man is good, two is better. They see it as an opportunity to envision men doing what they do best! They want men raw, hot, sweaty, sexy, capable of tears and able to bestow tender kisses. I can hear some men crying out ‘They’re asking too much!’ Maybe that’s why they are inventing them.

Ultimately, though, they seem to agree on one thing. They want great plots, engrossing characters, and good writing. As for what I intend to write in future, I ‘intend’ to write as I always have, bridging genres, wherever my imagination takes me and my readers wish me to go. Just remember, whatever you’re writing, create your characters with care and with regards to your hero, make him suffer, make him hurt, then pick him up and cuddle him.

Sharon Maria Bidwell
aonia – where the muses live

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The Summer Solstice is a turning point for many people for many different reasons. Each year it waited upon and celebrated. It marks the one day of the year where there are more daylight hours than darkness, from this day onward things only get shorter (until the Winter Solstice when the days begin to increase once more).

The Summer Solstice in Britain is celebrated by pagans in many different ways but the most spectacular and indeed the best known celebration occurs at Stonehenge.

Solstice 2005 - www.stonehenge.co.uk


Stonehenge is a site of great importance although it’s true meaning and reason for being has yet been fully agreed upon. Stonehenge is found upon Salisbury Plain and is estimated to have been erected sometime around 3,000 – 1,600 BC. The circular ring of bluestones where brought down from the Preseli Hills via methods fully unknown although this was a process that took many many years to complete. Each stone serves a purpose and it is only in recent years that archaeologists are really beginning to get to grips with the possible meanings behind each one. Early this year some exploratory ‘holes’ where dug allowing people to excavate Stonehenge for the first time in many years, the findings of which are still being processed.

When Stonehenge was created people lived more by the sun and the moon which is why the solstices where important to them. In the time we live in now these moments can very often pass by unnoticed unless a conscious effort is taken to follow them. The Summer Solstice as Stonehenge is a very important day of the year as it is the one time that a large number of people can go and celebrate actually amongst the stones themselves (within permissible times and access). Normally visitors to Stonehenge can only walk in a circle around the stones a small barrier marking the permissible boundaries.

More information can be found here: http://www.stonehenge.co.uk/ 




This years celebration had a police presence however the mood always tends to be rather jovial and it is very rare to have a large amount of trouble. Bands play all be it without speakers (rules are rather strict to help preserve the stones and the site), whilst people in many colours and from all over the world stand/dance/sit together to watch the sun rise (and in case you’re wondering it was at approximately 4.45 GMT this morning).

I wont go into the reasons behind why the solstice is an important day for me, or others since I’m sure if people would like to know more they will be able to look it up and I don’t want to drag religion into this journal.

Although I will say today is a joyful day and if it would only stop raining it would be perfect 🙂


The photographs were all taken from the Stonehenge site showing people’s experience of the Solstice in 2005 (as well as the henge itself)

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Now today isn’t meant to be my day in posting but I’m popping in briefly to say a happy summer solstice to everyone.

Summer Sol 2008

I hope everyone is having a great day and I will post more about this event later today once the celebrations have begun to fully wind down.

So all enjoy the longest day of the year!


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