LONDON … The City Where the Genuine ‘Queen of England’ is Not Always Clear!

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Funny thing about London … Being Gay was fairly well accepted for centuries in the British Capitol (Shakespeare, Richard the Lionhearted, Sir Isaac Newton etc). The fallout caused by the Oscar Wilde scandal in the 1890’s sent Brits into the nearest available closet for the next 100 years! Thankfully we are on the other side now and London is once again (and more-so) one of the most prominent “gay-tolerant” (a term I personally abhor) cities in the world. Tolerated my ass! But, I digress!

I have a special place in my heart for London and the U.K. since my grandfather was from Richmond in Surrey County just outside London. Guess one’s “blood” is something that can attract us to different parts of the world and after having read many interesting stories concerning the possibility of reincarnation, “blood” can apparently carry from one lifetime to the next. I find such concepts fascinating and in my case, after being thrown into the incentive travel business (I still wonder how/why that happened) and having the ability to “make things happen” in travel for myself from time to time, I have chosen to be in this handsome city many times for many years and have seen many changes! I say handsome in reference to London as I sometimes think of cities in terms of a gender (rather odd, I know) Paris a definite woman to me. Paris is an elderly dowager countess … proud, elegant and still absolutely magnificent looking! London is masculine, strong, quiet, regal and stoically handsome. I am in awe of Paris but I feel comfortable in London. Should you ever visit you would find many architectural similarities to our Philadelphia which makes perfect sense and I definitely think of Philadelphia in a masculine sense. But, that’s just me.

London is huge and very populous, but like Philly, not really overwhelming. A couple of years ago when I was being shown the London Olympic sites, then under construction, I thought to myself “What a hike it will be to come way out here to watch a race”. (Think Manayounk). London proper covers a lot of geography. In the past 40 some years and for a very long time Gays and their entertainment venues were strewn for miles, most hidden on the docks and in undesirable sections. A Gayborhood has been defining itself in the “village” of Soho. Most of what anyone wants of Gay interest will be located in London proper and much in/near Soho. It can be confusing “The City of London” is somewhat different then “London”. Stick with me here … The “City” of London refers to the original walled town (approx. one square mile in dead center of London) Even Queen Elizabeth II cannot enter the “City” without the Lord Mayor’s permission. It’s all rather silly and when Her Majesty arrives at the main gate she is greeted and then allowed/invited to enter. You and I can just walk in through the gate but to be honest, there is very little of interest in this section and as a “corporation” The “City” of London and mostly for government or financial business is not particularly a fun place to hang. Buckingham Palace (or Buck House) is in London but not the “City” of London as is the Tower of London, Westminster Abby, museums, theater and the rest of the tourist spots. (get it?) Should ERII find herself needing to go anywhere in London a ceremony is usually in order. The crazy Brits come up with pomp for just about everything! For example: One evening several years ago I was at a very elegant dinner party in The “City” which looked like something right out of Downton Abby. They served the main course by “Piping in the Beef” with white gloved waiters proudly entering the massive, elegant wood carved dining room to the wheezing of Bag-Pipes, hoisting a huge roast on an ornate silver tray! Apparently, centuries ago beef was a rarity, even for the aristocracy. If a roast loin of beef were to be served it would be presented with great fanfare in addition to being given “Knighthood”. A sword was used to actually “knight” the Beef loin and naming him “Sir”. Hence, the cut “Sirloin” remains. After this the meat was carved with the same sword. I remember watching this ceremony and even though totally “shit-faced” but I never forgot it. It was really funny, as is most ceremony, pomp and baloney in the world. I find that a good sense of humor is always Key to life in the 21st Century and should you start to see the world as one huge cosmic joke, not to be taken too seriously, you will be laughing all of the time.

In America I have heard it asked, “Is he gay or English? Is that not the same thing”? And while it is most impossible to fathom Prince Charles “spending a week between Camilla’s legs” as he reportedly wished, one must assume that this is what a proper Englishman considers “straight” but, who’s judging? Once again, I digress! Regardless of the English manner gay and straight do exist and in my personal travels I have found that the older the civilization the more “tolerant” (that fucking word again!) is. London has always been a center of attraction for different cultures and religions and as a result, London’s population is one of the most diverse worldwide. Much of this is no doubt attributed to the fact that much of Asia, South America, The Caribbean and on and on were till only recently under British rule. Additionally, London has always had a flourishing artistic, theatre scene. Whole music genres (Punk) came from London conquering Europe and the world. Rolling Stones, The Who, Queen, Sex Pistols, Bowie, Culture Club, Pet Shop Boys and Spice Girls! AWESOME, original stuff! (BTW … The Beatles were from Liverpool)

The vitality and diversity of this side of London is reflected in its gay scene: Huge, Diverse and Ever Changing! Although the lifestyle is now spread throughout the country rather nicely, if one would pinpoint a “Gay Village” one would say “Soho” which is just off Piccadilly and like our Washington West Gayborhood is about a mile square and very stylish. I am sure that NYC would accuse London from copying their SoHo (South of Houston) moniker but in reality, London’s Soho is from an old hunting call and the 17th Century when the area was hunting grounds for King Henry XVIII. Remember I said that the original/actual “city” was walled and surrounded by wilderness.

Soho really began its Bohemian ways at the turn of the 20th Century and the Beatnik, Jazz culture flourished here in the 1950’s. Many famous rock bands are associated with Soho and the Stones played their first ever concert at the “Marquee”. The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s found Soho the epicenter of the London music scene. Today, after much late 20th Century change, Soho has settled into a most comfortable “Gayborhood” with a diverse range of shops, boutiques and streets like “Carnaby” once a trend setter and now a tourist trap. Soho is actually part of “The West End” of London, the Theatre District (The famous London Palladium Theatre is in Soho) and next to “Mayfair” which is one of the best, most expensive sections of the city. A really odd but wonderful way of getting around Soho is by rickshaw. More expensive than a cab but a lot more fun and gets you there a lot more quickly.

The weather in London is “iffy” at best. On the downside, it seldom gets really warm or sunny for long and they say that summer in London lasts a possible week sometime July. The upside is that winter is about the same. Short to non-existent, it seldom snows and though leaves change in autumn, lawns and gardens stay somewhat green. I remember back in the February following the infamous death of Princess Diana watching the lawns at Kensington Palace being reseeded. The hundreds of thousands of floral memorials left had killed the grass. The day simply stands out to me as it was mid-February and a warm, gorgeous, sunny say and the green tinges on trees and so forth were similar to early May in Philly. “The foggy Day in London Town” is a bit exaggerated but cool, dampness is common. The Brits probably dress more “American” than Europeans do but still tend to look somewhat conservative. Again, leave the sneakers at home. In London they would be referred to as “trainers” and a sweater vest is a “jumper” and on and on.

Some time ago I used to hang out in Soho at Compton’s. The Kings Arms and the Duke of Wellington have been there forever and today as “The Hood” continues to develop you will find bars, clubs and the like coming and going almost on a daily basis. I remember liking a place “The Barcode” which I thought had a cute name and even cuter men and find it is now closed. Finding a suitable gay hangout in Soho will not hard. Admittedly but there is a tad more variety of Gay “Watering Holes” in London than our Man-Phil! Some are actually quite good but others are not. Quantity does not insure quality. London, like New York City can be very fickle and trendy which is fine for some but I admire the stability we have in our city. But, that’s just me.

It has been said “That to get good food in London, one must eat breakfast three times a day” This is not true and the food can be awesome. There are small pubs everywhere and like our cheesesteaks, you have not really lived until you sit in Piccadilly Circus with “Punk” looking inked and pierced, purple and orange haired kids eating London’s signature fish and chips wrapped in real newspaper. YUM! Beers are great and restaurants can be “BRILLIANT” or just comfortable places serving good food. Afternoon “tea” can sometimes think it is a meal, “crisps” are potato chips and cookies are called biscuits! Oh yeah, on most breakfast buffets they serve baked beans, Heinz and straight from the can! Crazy!

BOTTOM LINE: Obviously I could go on and on about my beloved UK and London but thought to stop here with some Queen of England trivia. Did you know that in England she is regarded as Her Royal Majesty (HRM) Queen Elizabeth II. However, not in Scotland. Scotland is still pissed off that Queen Elizabeth I executed her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots a while back. Therefore ERI never really was recognized as queen to them and the current Queen is Elizabeth the First! Gotta love the Brits and Scots! BTW: On my first trip to London in 1981 it was Benny Hill that was the Queen of England!

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