Girly road trip 4: strange new worlds

Cosplaying as a character you created yourself sounds like it should be easy, but there’s always going to be some major detail that buggers everything up.

A couple of years back I spent an inordinate amount of time doing sketches of a 60’s-style space adventure with cigar-shaped rocket ships and, yes, a space babe and her crew, all in shiny silver space suits. It got to the point where I got heartily sick of drawing buttocks, but damn it, I thought they looked kinda cool (the characters I mean; although the botties weren’t half bad either). Fuck it, I thought, I want to do a photoshoot like this!

I spent a lot of time doodling and sketching retro-futuristic science fiction scenes…

Fortunately, most of the outfit can be bought dirt cheap from Ebay or Amazon with relatively few adjustments. As long as you expect a shiny silver catsuit from China to be completely the wrong size, most of it’s pretty easy to acquire (sometimes from the weirdest places – like a pub in England with a surplus of novelty ketchup bottles…).

The only part which eluded me was the goldfish-bowl space helmet. Actual goldfish bowls were either too small or too heavy, and in either case I didn’t fancy balancing one on my head. Other options were too expensive, and making a custom-fit, lightweight version myself was beyond my skills. So I decided to Photoshop it in, instead (and hope I didn’t take photos on windy days…)

This ray gun is actually a novelty ketchup/mustard bottle I got from Ebay and painted up…

The next issue was finding locations to take all these damn photos. I had ideas – oh, you’d better believe I had ideas! – and ended up with more locations than I could possibly talk about in this blog entry alone (more in future months, I promise). Having already travelled the length of Scotland from the border to John O’Groats, anything was possible. I figured out road routes that would give me as many locations in as few journeys as possible. I scoured Google Earth for places that mixed the familiar with the obscure, and sketched out rough ideas for different shots.

Not all my sketches are that detailed; just enough to give an idea of the kind of shots I’m after… and satellite photos help pick the best locations!

I had a route planned that would start at silly o’clock in the morning, and get me to Aberdeen at sunrise. All I needed to do was keep an eye on the weather and hope the skies wouldn’t sabotage the journey. Weather forecasts are only reliable up to a point, and then you just have to rely on luck, and accept whatever shots you can get.

We went to bed not long after dinner, and woke not long after midnight. Batshit crazy? It meant I could slap on my makeup and the spray-on silver catsuit, and drive to Dundee by 3am. Yes; utterly batshit crazy.

Dundee in the early hours of the morning when nobody is about. Why visit at any other time?

My main interest in Dundee was the recently-opened V&A art gallery on the edge of the river Tay. Happily, being there at 3am meant there was nobody around to ask drunken questions, or dive into the shots, or just spoil things. At that time, the only interest was from the night guard (I swear, I must’ve given a handful of night guards some weird shit to contend with on their CCTV screens over the years…). We wandered around the funky modern architecture as long as our schedule allowed before moving on again…

Why yes, I can tramp over country paths and sand dunes in high-heeled go-go boots.

The next stop was Balmedie beach. I’d been here a few times when I was a kid, so I knew it had vast expanses of sand that could double as a desert planet, grassy dunes, freshwater streams choked with greenery making their way to the beach, and best of all, an epic windfarm which annoys the shit out of Donald Trump.

As we approached Aberdeen I saw a massive bank of cloud hanging over the northern skies, and I had a nasty feeling they’d block out the sunrise. To my immense relief, we got about ten minutes’ sunshine as the sun broke the horizon, and made as much use of it as we could. Sunrise was the only limitation on the schedule; after that we could take our time at the remainder of the locations.

Daviot stone circle is in the middle of nowhere…

The next stop was a stone circle at Daviot, in the middle of… well, nowhere. Grampian region is pretty sparse, and the country roads are choked with roadkill rabbits, like a Beatrix Potter version of Schindler’s List. God, it’s grim.

For the purposes of the photoshoot, I figured the stone circle, surrounded by trees, might give a Stargate-y vibe (in that series, they gave themselves an excuse for why every planet they visited resembled a Canadian forest…). I had a bash at recreating one of my sketches which was easier said than done. First I had to scamper over sharp, loose rocks in high-heeled go go boots, and then try holding that ridiculous pose for ages (taking breaks to see how they looked on the camera, and then going back to readjust).

So yeah, seemingly minor locations can take a while to complete…

Tarlair is an abandoned lido on the edge of nowhere…

The final stop was an abandoned 1930s lido at Tarlair on Grampian’s northern coast. It’s still intact, but clearly it’s been decades since its hey-day. It’s set among cliffs and rock arches that make for an otherworldly appearance.

When we arrived there was a single guy running laps around the area, and doing chin-ups and exercises (I guess there isn’t much else to do first thing on a Sunday morning here). We found it easy to keep him out of the shots, but he was clearly interested in what we were doing and dying to speak to us… but keeping a respectful distance.

There were tons of different shots we could take there (it’s been difficult whittling it down to only the best of the best; the location looks good at any angle), but eventually we realised that it was time to head back south. I changed back into a more ordinary dress and shoes, and when we were about to head off the exercise guy walked by.

“Don’t get many space girls landing in Banff!” he said. He’d been dying to say that for ages, poor sod. I gave him a cheesy grin and pretended to laugh silently because I knew if I said anything my voice would just wreck his whole morning.

We stopped off to tank up the car, and a bunch of retired and well-fed old men were gathered in the petrol station shop to buy their morning papers and catch up on everything that wasn’t happening in the area. Obviously, me walking in with my makeup and retro hair was a sight they don’t get that often, so they all clammed up and stared silently as I paid and left in less than sixty seconds. Was it creepy? Or did they realise I was a guy in a dress? Honestly, I didn’t give a shit what they thought – which is pretty much the only superpower you need to crossdress.

And with that, I had a batch of photos I could photoshop with my space helmet… and maybe add a few details to, like planets and frickin’ laser beams.

You’d better believe there’s more to come! 🙂

Dundee’s newest, and second, attraction…
Purple and green make a weird mix in pre-dawn light…
This wind farm is the future! And it annoys Donald Trump! What’s not to like?
Managed to catch the only 10 minutes of sunshine!
The key to doing this shit is maintaining an “intrepid expression” that mixes a hint of the warning look you give a rambunctious puppy, with the look you have when something you want has just sold out. Or something. There’s a lot you can read into that dead, blank stare.
I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere…
Stone circle or stargate? You decide!
Let’s see you try holding this pose…
Sea. This. Rocks.
If you want to pretend to be epic, find an epic location.
Tarlair Lido has seen better days…
Pretending to be epic…
This is how I exercise at the weekend. How about you?

Little Wonder

Last year I got a bit swept up in the Wonder Woman mania, and figured I’d have a stab at doing some cosplay for a friend’s birthday party. The costume I got was… cheap. But I intended to modify it and customise it and hopefully make it look a little closer to Gil Gadot’s outfit.

First order of business was to see how the thing looked, and how much work I had ahead of me. It wasn’t completely awful; it was just… a bit too shiny and lacking detail. With a couple of cans of spray-paint (maroon and gold), black marker pens, dirt cheap heels, coloured cardboard, plastic wrap and sandpaper, I would remake the damn thing, and make it look… uh, better. Maybe.

I’d also need to figure out how to cut out all the cardboard layers to make the chest-piece, belt and headband. This was a problem-solving exercise in drafting and actually more fun than it sounds.

blogimagery94-WonderWomanCosplay

This is what I started with; I then channeled my inner ‘A-Team’ and got practical with it…

What did I think of the film? I liked it. I’m not really into superheroes, and the deadly seriousness of the DC lot put me off Batman or Superman. I needed something different, and Wonder Woman provided it. Sure, there’s some stuff I wish had been done better: it peaks too soon – the Crowning Moment Of Awesomeness is when Wonder Woman walks out alone into No Man’s Land (but of course) between the trenches amid a blaze of machine gun fire and an equally blazing electric cello riff; nothing in the latter half of the film comes even close to matching this moment. It’s also too easy to figure out who the real villain is early on; and the ending boss battle is just empty special effects – if they’d brought back some element from the start of the *plot* that had a purpose at the end, it would’ve been stronger (yes, I’m very demanding about the films I watch!).

Having said that, the cello riff is my new earworm, and whenever I hear it I feel like a big damn hero; I like films that show me stuff I’ve never seen before, and the first 20 minutes do this without needing any special effects; and that costume bloody rocks.

blogimagery95-WonderWomanCostume

It’s amazing what you can do with cardboard, plastic wrap and sandpaper (and a bit of dark chalk for weathering effects)…

Anyway, after a few weeks, I had the costume ready at last. I’d already fielded questions from curious neighbours when I was spray-painting outdoors, but there’s nothing like going out in public to properly field-test these things…

On the night of the party, I got myself kitted out and drove out from the city. It was Friday evening. Most people were going home from work. There were traffic jams. And if there’s one thing people didn’t expect, it was to find Wonder Woman stuck in a jam next to them.

It’s a damn good thing I don’t mind attention. Especially when it’s half a dozen schoolkids in the back row of the bus in front, all waving at me and taking photos on their phones. I waved back.

blog-gallery217-WonderWomanparty

At the party, the birthday girl was the only one I knew. Fortunately, there were others in costume too: Emperor Ming from Flash Gordon; Dangermouse; Adventure Time; Thor; Supergirl… and everyone else turned up dressed as themselves.  The costume brigade occupied one table, like an oasis of YO CHECK THIS OUT among so many party frocks.

The party was bloody good fun, but sadly the costume didn’t survive a trip to the toilet. The zip up the side split like a pop group, and after a few awkward minutes in which the birthday girl found some safety pins for me, I spent the rest of the party moving cautiously. Having a shield came in handy.

*

I had intended to have a second go at Edinburgh Comic Con this year (having previously turned up as Lara Croft) – but I fear the costume broke beyond my ability to fix it – not just the zip, but the inflexible cardboard, and seams on the leg pieces. I’m also beginning to wonder (hah!) if the moment has passed? Wonder Woman‘s impact might have been lessened by her appearance in Justice League (and maybe also in the aftermath of Marvel’s Black Panther?).

There’s also an element of being “Not Twist” – in other costumes, I’m obviously Twist-dressed-as-someone, but as ‘Wonder Woman’, I have to be someone else. And somehow, it feels like quite a responsibility portraying a character like that. It’s not the sort of thing I’d want to fuck up – certainly not by parading about in a broken, torn, patched-up costume.

So I think that party was my only appearance as Wonder Woman. Somehow, that makes it feel more valuable.

blog-gallery215-WonderWoman

When in doubt, add lens flares.

The Horror!

I recently went to the Edinburgh Horror Festival screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for the first time in …okay, a couple of decades. But you know what? It’s still damn good fun. It’s funny how fans can just fall into conversations with each other, even if complete strangers.

It was an odd crowd that night: lots of first-timers; and only one girl at the back doing all the shout-outs to the screen. And (being in a pub-slash-music-slash-cinema venue), drunken guys stumbling in halfway through the film with pint glasses in hand, and uttering profound insights such as “Fuck’s this? Is i’ like a fillum abou’ poofs or summin?” (I could go on -at length- but they left after a period of time that wasn’t short enough.)

I did a handful of shout-outs (overcoming my Edinburgh reserve and a desire not to freak out the first-timers). My main contribution was at the very end, when the camera shot starts rotating around. I leapt to the front and mimed spinning the camera shot as it went faster and faster. A lot of people hadn’t seen that one before; they liked it, and I got a round of applause for it!

One pricelessly awkward moment came after the girl at the back shouted “Slut!” at Janet for the umpteenth time. A guy at the front stood up and shouted back at her to stop slut-shaming. Rocky Horror certainly has the potential to set off a ton of trigger warnings for the more sensitive among us. I mean, the iconic character is a murderous, pansexual, alien, cannibal, sex pest. I could see a lot of kids today getting confused about whether they should no-platform him for being a homicidal rapist, or tell his critics to check their cis-het, terrestrial, vegetarian privilege.

(I am so glad I’m not growing up in the 21st century. It must be awful meeting people and apologising in advance for any perceived slights you may or may not inflict.)

*

Just as the golden age of science fiction is about 12, I reckon the golden age for Rocky Horror must be about 14 (I think I was that age when I first saw it, anyway). And at a summer drama camp the following year (an activity with a sex ratio skewed toward girls), I and the other kids my age were all into it – so we decided to end our show with a performance of Let’s Do The Timewarp Again (as the only boy involved in this, I played Riff Raff). I was just glad the dance moves are simple enough for me to do.

I try not to think too much about the really fucking awkward time my parents watched it on TV with me.

And, as mentioned in previous posts, the first time I went out cross-dressed was for showings at university (did that a couple of times).

It wasn’t long after that Simon Pegg came out with his little anti-Rocky-Horror rant:

I hate Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s boil-in-the-bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and first-year drama students…
(Simon Pegg, Spaced)

It’s possible to like someone’s creative works, yet not really care for their opinions. In this instance, I thought he’d missed the mark, badly. He was making generalisations based on ignorance, as if Rocky Horror was nothing more than an “grown-up Hallowe’en“.

I’ve got friends who say that Rocky Horror introduced them to concepts of transexuality which helped them figure out who they were – that they weren’t “wrong”, and there was even a word to describe them.

For me, it’s more general than that.

Look at the Transylvanian partygoers in Frank’s place. They’re all ages: they’re very tall; very short; thin; fat; different skin colours; and everything in between. They’re more representative than the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise. Not one of them ‘fits in’ anywhere else. They would never be considered ‘cool’ anywhere – but in Frank’s place, they are.

That, for me, was the big message the film had to give, and is the point Simon Pegg completely missed: the ‘cool’ kids are nowhere near as cool as the uncool kids. The uncool kids are cool in ways the cool kids cannot even conceive of. The ‘cool’ kids are the ones staggering into the cinema with their pint glasses halfway through, wondering what the hell everyone’s watching (the plot is nonsensical and the song lyrics doggerel, but none of that matters in the slightest).

The uncool accountants and students Pegg mentioned? They’re wanting to grab a bit of proper coolness by breaking out from their everyday lives, even if only for a couple of hours.

Everything you get picked on for, or you feel makes you weird, is essentially what makes you sexy as an adult.
(Justin Timberlake)

So, if you’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong, sex, the wrong sexuality, or simply in the wrong clothes – you can be cooler than ‘cool’. That’s what I got from Rocky Horror, and that’s why I’d recommend it to the 14-year-old outsider marking time until they can get the hell out of school.

If you think about it, “it’s astounding…”

Be of good cheer!

Want an excuse to cross-dress in public? Make a deal, bet, or dare with someone!

blogimagery91-i-lost-a-bet

I lost a bet, all right?

I did this with my writing group as part of National Novel-Writing Month one November. A fellow writer bet that she could write 50,000 words before I did, and I bet that I could write 50,000 words before any of the first-timers in our group. We both lost. Her forfeit was to wear one of my garish Hawai’ian shirts to the end-of-month party; mine was to attend wearing her old cheerleader skirt from her university days. She even gave me her pom-poms.

The thing she didn’t like was the fact that I could fit into the skirt and she hadn’t worn it in years. The thing I didn’t like was the fact that it was the end of November and the worst winter we’d had in decades – not ideal conditions to be prancing about town dressed as a cheerleader. Our venue had to shut early, so we scouted around for another. We ended up in a sports bar. It was the night of some big football match. This was definitely not an ideal place to be dressed as a cheerleader. Especially at a table full of fellow nerds sipping soft drinks and typing stories into their laptops.

Yes, I got stared at. Yes, I freaked out a couple of guys who were staring at me a little bit too long before I said in my chirpy, bloke-ish voice, “Can I help you?” And yes, I was bloody freezing. But dammit, it was fun.

I'd never make it in a team.

I’d never make it in a team.

A couple of years later I asked to borrow the cheerleader stuff again for an early-morning autumn photoshoot. I got a few pictures in a sports field (with only sunrise dogwalkers to wonder what the hell was going on), but –meh– they just seemed too ordinary. I don’t like being ordinary!

Reasons to be cheerful?

Reasons to be cheerful?

Instead, I went the pop-culture route. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a cheerleader, wasn’t she? And, handily enough, there was a sizeable Victorian-era graveyard nearby, overgrown and covered in autumn leaves. Perfect!

Creepy steps

I live in a city with a multitude of creepy, overgrown graveyards.

It’s a weird feeling going around a graveyard in a cheerleader outfit. I don’t have any religious sensibilities, and I don’t really get the concept of ‘desecration’; in any case, I was just walking around looking for striking scenery to pose in. The graves themselves held no interest to me other than as background ornamentation.

Buffy in undergrowth

Mucking about in the undergrowth…

Even so, I did wonder what I’d say to anyone who happened to be walking past. I wanted photos that looked incongruous when taken at face value, yet fit in with Buffy-style tropes.

Vampire Slayer

October is a time of grave concern…

On the other hand, who’s going to wander around a graveyard at silly-o’clock in the morning? There was nobody else there. It was as quiet as the grave…

Buffy: gravestones

Cheerleader Buffy doing a 3-point-landing in a graveyard. I don’t know how much more epic I can be for you people.

 

 

Hooked on a feline

On another old photoshoot, I had the idea of finding everyday locations that might be a bit science fictiony when seen from a certain angle, and try to get some sort of action heroine shots. This is trickier than it sounds, because it turns out these sorts of places employ security guards…

catsuit

This is more uncomfortable than it looks…

Nothing says ‘action heroine who’s got her shit sorted out’ like a catsuit. This sort of thing also tends to attract a lot of attention, so I reckoned it’d be best to get the photos done very early on another summer morning. I’d given thought to the science & engineering campus for the university as a location, but plumped instead for the back of a cinema complex, where there were lots of grilles and vents and a very long staircase that brought to mind (my mind, anyway) classic villains’ lairs from old James Bond movies. We weren’t supposed to park there, but who was going to notice at 5am?

Right after this photo was taken, we were asked to leave...

Right after this photo was taken, we were asked to leave…

We barely got started – maybe half a dozen photos to get lighting and poses figured out – before a side door opened and a chubby, spotty, greasy little teenager in an ill-fitting suit waddled out with a walkie talkie. His face was flushed, like he’d just interrupted a late-night chip supper to deal with us.

“Ye cannae be here!” he squeaked in a breaking voice, “It’s no’ allowed!”

In my heels, I felt like I was twice his height. I figured he must’ve been the cinema manager’s otherwise unemployable son or something. At any rate, I could see why he was picked for the Z-shift on the duty rota.

“We’re just taking a few photos,” my girlfriend explained.

“Ye’ve got tae go! It’s private propurrty!”

Discretion being the better part of valour, I just rolled my eyes, grabbed my coat and headed to the incredibly long staircase down to the car. Halfway down, I had that hairs-raising-on-the-back-of-my-neck feeling; I was being watched. Sure enough, I turned around and saw the wee man staring at my backside.

“I’m not who you think I am!” I told him.

I was quite gratified to see his jaw open and shut like a gasping fish as he stammered silently for a moment before waddling back to the safety of his CCTV control room.

Okay, strike one location. I had another idea: there was a water treatment facility by the shore, and from some angles it kinda looked like a nuclear reactor. It was also next to some industrial wasteland, so there would be a ton of scrap metal to strike adventurous poses on. I had visions of photoshopping in attack helicopters and explosions (still haven’t gotten around to that yet).

Despite appearances, this isn't a nuclear reactor; it's a water treatment facility...

Despite appearances, this isn’t a nuclear reactor; it’s a water treatment facility…

We tried not to breathe in the stench from the sewer water, and got a number of shots in…. before a marked security car crawled past. The driver scowled at us. Or maybe it was leering. It was hard to tell. Unlike a cinema Z-shift team, this guy looked like he strangled kittens for fun. We were glad when he drove on, out of sight.

Action heroines always seem to end up mucking around industrial waste grounds...

Action heroines always seem to end up mucking around industrial waste grounds…

Anyway, we were on a public road, and we weren’t breaking any laws, so we stayed to take a few more pictures across the road in front of the waste ground (I decided it was too muddy and potholed to actually prance around in there). That’s when a second security car crawled past. The driver looked like Spike the bulldog from the Tom & Jerry cartoons and got into the security business because he was attracted by the prospect of beating the crap out of people. He stared at me with – well, kiss-kiss-bang-bang eyes I guess…

As soon as he drove round the corner we decided this location was bust too. Time to move on again.

There was an old observatory on a hill with great views over the city centre, right next to the cinema we’d started at. So we went back, and I had to totter up the slopes and steps to the top, regretting my choice of footwear with every step.

More from the amazing adventures of Spinal Twist...

More from the amazing adventures of ‘Spinal Twist’…

The observatory itself was hidden behind a wall, but there were plenty of other points of interest on top of the hill (I used the location for other photoshoots later in the year). Best of all, there were no CCTV cameras and no guards to stop us; as far as I know it’s a public park.

Nothing like a stroll in the park to get you going...

Nothing like a stroll in the park to get you going…

Sorting out my hair, because that's what people will be looking at first... right?

Sorting out my hair, because that’s what people will be looking at first… right?

...when the revolution comes...

…when the revolution comes…

We got the photos I was after, but I wanted just a few more at a more rural-looking location, like the sort of quaint villages you’d see in the 1960s Avengers TV show. Edinburgh has that too, with a church next to a loch.

I live in a city with quaint villages right in the middle of it...

I live in a city with quaint villages right in the middle of it…

All I need is a Jaguar E-type and my image is set...

All I need is a Jaguar E-type and my image is set…

After the village pictures, we ventured down to the loch, past a bevy of swans which all stopped and stared. Just for that moment, it felt like something from one of the more surreal episodes of a sixties adventure show (“I shall conquer England with my army of robot swans! Muahahaha!”).

That swan honked at me. The sexist pervert.

That swan honked at me. The sexist pervert.

I expected the swans. I didn’t expect to interrupt a guy in a tent at the side of the loch, fishing. He certainly didn’t expect to see us, that’s for sure. I bade him good morning, and his mouth fell open, dropping his pipe onto his lap. Poor sod. He just wanted a quiet bit of fishing before breakfast time, and, well, Twist happens.

Four-inch heels are completely impractical for being a cartoon secret agent...

Four-inch heels are completely impractical for being a cartoon secret agent…

I was told to stand like this. I have no idea why.

I was told to stand like this. I have no idea why.

*For newer readers, I’ve written previously on the subject of catsuits, objectificationsexualisation, and feelings of empowerment before – in short, I liked prancing around like this because I thought it might look cool, rather than to look sexy.