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.

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So, creeps reap what they sow?

It’s been a lot longer than intended since my last blog post, but my outings this year have been of a purely social nature; no adventures; no grand photoshoots; nothing to report (at least, not yet…).

I usually do my longer more serious, introspective posts (which always give me the stomach-turning feeling that they’ll start up a shitstorm) at the end of the year.

2017 has certainly provided a bit of food for thought in the wake of this year’s eruption of sexual harassment scandals (ranging from rape and other sex acts, to unwanted physical contact, to verbal harassment), going back decades.

I could easily add my name to the #metoo hashtag (if I used Twitter), but I’d have to add it to a #I_am_hardly_blameless_myself hashtag as well.

2013_12_17_that_thing_by_tomfonder-d6y7pgt

#I_am_hardly_blameless_myself
To put it briefly, learning to socialise was a steep catch-up learning curve in my first year at university, and I found myself socially ostracised more than once because I had no idea what I was doing wrong (but I certainly knew that I was doing something wrong). Maybe I had a toxic personality; maybe it was extreme social immaturity. Whatever it was, if I could go back in time, I’d happily strangle my 17-year-old self and damn the time paradoxes.

Have I ever creeped women out? For certain (I had enough self-awareness to realise that my teenage attempts at flirting were about as welcome as being chatted up by Gollum). Have I ever said inappropriate things? Yes (thankfully I was able to channel these impulses into improv comedy instead). Have I ever touched a woman inappropriately? I’m sure I probably did – but I’m also sure that was the extent of it, though. It’s not like I was a rampant sex pest in the style of Pepé Le Pew; just an annoying teenage shit.

On meeting up with one of my university friends a couple of years back, she assured me that whatever I said or did (that had me twitching and gibbering to myself years or decades later with embarrassing memories) “At least you apologised.”

What changed? I learnt not to be a dick, through a process of trial and error, I guess. A year or two of solo travelling helped as well – going around the world with nothing more than you can physically carry means you have to sharpen your social skills pretty damn quick. I’d say I was in my early-to-mid-twenties before I was an acceptably functioning member of civilised society.

What about #metoo then?
It was also at university that I started crossdressing, and I’ve already written about the great fun I had.

But there were plenty of moments when guys – and it was only the guys – creeped me out: trying to lift my skirt at parties (several times – what were they hoping to see?); inviting me to sit on their laps (certainly not, if it’s going to feel like you have three knees); once asking if I ‘wanted to be fucked like a bitch’ (by a total stranger at a party – I assume he’s had a lifetime of going home alone at night); grabbed from behind and dry humped (three occasions); and then, of course, there was the whole ‘if a man is dressed as a woman then it must be funny’ thing to get over. I prefer to dwell on the good stuff that happened instead (all of these were in the late 1990s, so pre-Twist days).

More recently, however, sometimes people (men, women, or otherwise) grab or touch Twist (or ask bizarre questions) and I either don’t mind at all, or I don’t let it bother me.

Sometimes it’s just curiosity (“Are those tits real?” *poke* – “Would you really have done that if you thought they were?”); sometimes it’s just for fun (I tried very hard not to dissolve into giggles whilst being motorboated at a party once); hugs and touches are perfectly okay too (I’m not much of a huggy-touchy person myself but I won’t ever turn them down).

Some things are okay when I feel safe and it’s among friends. As for how other people might react to those same things, your mileage may vary.

14615864_331310427233389_4936048907611587462_o

This was bloody funny actually. 😀

So, is there anything I can conclude?
I can only speak for myself here: feeling sexually harassed was something I felt more acutely when I was younger, and more unsure of myself, and low-status. And it only ever happened when I was cross-dressed, so – and it’s important to note this – it’s not like I had to face this sort of thing all the time.

These days, as Twist, I’m a big girl and I can take a lot, and I’d let someone know if they’d gone too far.

What’s my take on all the sexual harassment scandals? These are only my current thoughts, and they may or may not change (and bear in mind that explanations are not excuses):

  • If a guy says they can’t remember something they did years ago, it’s probably true.
    But – in my last year on university, a woman I met with some of my friends said I’d made a highly inappropriate remark to her way back in my first year. I had no memory of this at all, but I said that it sounded like the sort of thing I would’ve said, and apologised to her for it. If you can recognise you’ve screwed up, it seems like the least you can do.
  • Some guys have no idea they’re doing something wrong.
    Maybe it’s immaturity; maybe they can’t pick up on social cues; maybe they’re used to a touchy-feely or bantering culture (I always blame things on stupidity before I blame them on malice). I suspect a lot of people don’t realise that others won’t think the same way they do – while guys might be flattered or amused by (sexual) attention, it doesn’t mean women will be flattered or amused by the same sort of attention (depends on the person, I suppose?). Never underestimate how stupid young men can be.
  • Mixing sexual relationships with work relationships sounds bloody dangerous at the best of times.
  • Age-wise, if you want to avoid being skeevy, a neat rule of thumb I heard is:
    don’t date anyone who is younger than [half-your-age, plus seven years]. Even better, don’t blithely assume that you’re date-able.
  • Anyone shown to have abused their high status deserves to be publicly brought down. Justice must be seen to be done, and nobody is above the law.
  • Guilt and shame work best when they’re self-inflicted. Unfortunately, some people have egos too big for this to work, and need the evidence of their wrongdoing screamed at them from a thousand directions.
  • Lastly, and probably least popularly, there is a damn good reason why the law has presumption of innocence. Mob justice is ugly, fickle, hasty and forgetful, and it can turn against the innocent as well as the guilty, no matter if we like them or not. (The two links in this bullet point give different views on the matter; I recommend reading both.)

I’m a long-term optimist. It’s not going to be quick; it’s not going to be an even improvement, everywhere, for everyone – but things will improve.

Also: I’m really fucking glad I went through my teens before social media was invented.

*

I have a few Twist things planned for 2018 (if I can summon up the courage), and I still have a backlog of photos to add to the gallery.

More blogging later! 🙂

Fife, the universe, and everything

The longest photo session I ever did took nearly nine hours. I think I should make a note of just how much effort went into it – not for my sake, but to recognise the infinite patience of my photographer/wife.

Sunny pool

Things to do on a summer holiday…

I had figured out a route that would let me get some sunrise shots in an outdoor swimming pool with weird rock formations around it, a small picturesque fishing village, the ancient university town of St Andrews, and a scenic coastal railway station. I could bring changes of costume for each location, and get all this done by breakfast (or so I thought…)

First, I had to set the alarm for 2am. we spent an hour getting ready (me putting on makeup, she getting a thermos for hot drinks and snack bars for the next few hours).

Then I had to drive through the city centre dodging drunken students at 3am, when it turned out that my usual route out was blocked off by a labyrinth of bollards (the city’s transport chiefs love to mess around with car drivers) and further on at a bridge, by a police van with strobes (I assumed someone was having A Very Bad Night, either on the bridge or not long off it, but apparently nobody was hurt). We finally escaped town about an hour later than intended thanks to some hasty re-navigation. It then turned out that our destination -the Kingdom Of Fife– had turned into a massive 20mph zone.

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So by the time we got to Cellardyke tidal pool, it was over 30 minutes after sunrise and about five minutes off the maximum high tide. The pool was completely submerged. Well, shit.

Going downhill in Crail...

You get used to cobbles. Eventually.

Cottages

Dainty, isn’t it? (The village, I mean…)

A bit of colour

Some people live in great-looking little houses.

Instead, we went up the road to the tiny fishing village of Crail, where I found a quiet corner to change dresses and into my heels.

Crail

Early morning at a quiet little harbour…

Harbouring a secret desire?

Uh, just realised there’s a boat with ‘KY’ right next to my backside; you shouldn’t read anything into this.

On the up-side, there was nobody about, apart from a Japanese tourist taking photos, and a guy in the harbour sorting out his boat. No problem! The sun was over the horizon and the light was good.

St Andrews Cathedral

It was like that when I got there…

In at the deep Pend?

Fancy visiting The Pends? It Depends.

After that, to save me constantly changing in and out of my heels, her ladyship drove us further up the coast to St Andrews. For the sake of helping to differentiate each scene, I wore different coloured tops and belts over the dress. I did try changing the dress in the car, but ended up giving a trio of male students heading home a bit of a show. Being St Andrews students, they were too polite to catcall, point, or stare for longer than thirty seconds (I think they managed about twenty).

If I move away, the pillar falls over.

If I move away, the pillar falls over.

This is where princes and princesses learn stuff and shiz...

This is where princes and princesses learn stuff and shiz.

...in which I pretend to be clever...

…in which I pretend to be clever…

We got there before 6am, taking in photos of the cathedral and the Pends, the university (where any security guards would’ve gotten a weird show from all the cameras around St Salvator’s Quad), and the golf course… where two SUVs containing a group of gigantic US golfers with bad dress sense jumped out to take photos of themselves right at the spot we were hoping to go. Dammit.

So I photobombed them.

St Andrews Golf Club

For swingers?

My only regret is not seeing the looks on their faces when they saw what I was doing right behind them. Sadly, most of the view was taken up with stands for The Open. If I gave even a mouse-sized shit about golf, I’d’ve realised this beforehand… but at least the early morning skies were spectacular. Incidentally, until 2014 the Golf Club was men only. If it still was, I could really have fucked things up for them.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

We then drove back to Cellardyke, where the tide had lowered enough to reveal the pool. I’d been unable in my researches to find out how deep it was, and I had a choice of a decrepit paddling pool, or the larger pool where I couldn’t see the bottom.

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The water was lovely.

I went for the paddling pool, going barefoot on smashed up 1930s concrete and seaweed. It was filled with a load of sea flora and small fauna (I hoped it wasn’t being filled with sewage or anything – it was manky enough as it was!).

Paddling pool

This pool was ancient, decrepit, manky, and full of sea critters. The smile is fake.

Poolside seat

Trying very hard not to fall backwards into the sea…

Lido

You can swim in it too (if you dare)…

By this time it was about 7.30am, and instead of having the place to ourselves (nice and quiet and private), I was being watched by joggers and dog-walkers and people from the nearby caravan site fetching supplies.

This pool has spent about 80 years getting smashed to bollocks by the North Sea.

This pool has spent about 80 years getting smashed to bollocks by the North Sea.

One of them was an old man walking his dog. He sat on a bench and took in the Twist swimsuit show (which began with my beloved photographer saying, “Well, we’re here now. Come on, strip, motherfucker!”).

I bet that gull had a great view.

I bet that gull had a great view.

I struck every classic swimsuit pose I could think of, as best as I could. If only the old guy knew he wasn’t looking at who he thought he was looking at. Still, he had a big, wide, happy smile on his face. And when I say smile, I mean leer. He was clearly having the best start to his day he’d had in years.

Been seen to lean by a keen teen in jeans means I'm unclean?

Been seen to lean by a keen teen in jeans means I’m unclean?

It was getting busier, and more people were stopping to watch: TIME TO GTFO.

I made damn well sure to find a spot hidden by the sea wall where I could get changed out of my swimsuit… into a shiny little black dress. Regular readers will have realised by now that I’m not averse to standing out from the crowd. I can only assume that the caravan park crowd thought I was doing a walk of shame or something.

You'll notice I'm kneeling in a paddling pool; there's no way I was jumping into the one behind me.

You’ll notice I’m kneeling in a paddling pool; there’s no way I was jumping into the one behind me.

We went for one last shoot at Aberdour railway station, this time watched only by Scotrail’s security cameras and a middle-aged couple waiting.

Stationary at the station

I’m amazed I could squeeze into this dress…

LBD, platform, heels...

I’m trying to ignore the middle-aged couple staring at me…

I should point out that we still hadn’t had breakfast. Her ladyship was in dire need of coffee. I drove us back to Edinburgh, utterly exhausted.

I'm blue dab-a-dee Aberdour, dab-a-dee Aberdour...

I’m blue dab-a-dee Aberdour, dab-a-dee Aberdour…

My lack of peripheral vision from the wig only caused one near-RTA (thankfully the other driver was happy to let me know with generous application of their horn).

Platform

You just stick your thumb and and hitch a ride – that’s how trains work, isn’t it?

By the time we got back home, it was getting on for 10.30am. That’s eight and a half hours, people! THIS is why I love my wife to bits: there’s nobody else I’d go on adventures with! 🙂

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.

 

 

Shop hopping

It’s been ages since I got new clothes. I think I’ve probably got as much as I want in my wardrobe now. Maybe I’ve found my ‘look’ and I’m happy with it? Or maybe I’m not going out as much as I used to, and now I can just re-use my old favourites? (It’s always a huge relief to find I can still fit into a dress I bought four or five years ago…)

When I first started building up my wardrobe (after deciding what clothes and footwear to go for), I just went with my girlfriend and built up a modest stock of cheap underwear and basic skirts and tops from local shops. For solo shopping trips, I’d go to shops on the other side of town where there was no chance of bumping into anyone I knew. (The easiest trips were to fancy dress shops – it’s not like you have to explain yourself…)

I'm so bad at snooker, I can't even hold the cue properly...

One of my earliest and favourite purchases.

I’ve always been determined to work within a strict budget – so a large part of Twist’s wardrobe comes from second-hand charity shops. These tend to be slightly opportunistic or impulsive purchases – I’ll see something on a mannequin and think “Hell, yes!” and (assuming it’s about the right size) buy it because if it doesn’t work out, at least I haven’t blown vast amounts of money on it. More often than not, I have a ‘look’ in mind and scout around seeing if there’s anything that comes vaguely close to it.

You never know quite who’s going to be behind the till. On an early venture, I spied a slinky dress in a window that was perfect, and went inside. It was packed with little old ladies rummaging through winter coats, but I apologised my way through the crowd to the cashier and told her I wanted to buy That Dress in the window. She had a mischievous look in her eye.

She opened up the display and shouted back to me, “IS THIS THE DRESS YOU WANT, SIR?”

I was damned if I was going to let her try to out-sass me or try to make me feel foolish, even in guy mode. So I shouted back with a cheery smile and a thumbs-up.

“YEP! THAT’S THE ONE! IT’S JUST MY SIZE!”

I don’t think anyone else in the shop was paying the slightest attention to either of us.

"We're not flying; we're falling with style!"

The zipper on this dress was… eh, ‘flying low’…

On another occasion I was looking for a vintage 60’s-style dress for a photoshoot (the one in the old fashioned airliner; apart from having to avoid a children’s party, that shoot passed without incident and the photos can be seen sprinkled throughout the gallery).

I found exactly what I was after in a charity shop in a very genteel, prim, proper part of town. The sweet little old lady (Edinburgh’s second-hand shops contain no other sort) behind the till struck me as the kind of woman who was probably schooled by Miss Jean Brodie.

She rung it up and said, “There you are sir, one ladies’ dress.”

And I got to use the Eddie Izzard line, “It’s not a ladies’ dress – it’s mine!”

I thanked her and packed it into my bag. She just blinked, speechless. I think I was a bit too modern for her tastes.

(It turned out the dress was too small, so I had to figure out how to pose without showing the gaping zipper at the side.)

When it comes to charity shops, I go for the secular ones – health, animal welfare, and social support. The only shop I refuse to donate to or buy from on principle is the Salvation Army (because it’s just not a very nice organisation).

castle gardens

Splashing out…

I have splashed out occasionally. On a trip to Orlando five years back, we got an idea of the political divide between two stores.

The first was an upmarket dress shop; lots of stuff I’d love to have tried out, but the sales assistant was a middle-aged woman with big hair who struck me as the type who was Afraid Of Change and would vote accordingly.

She asked my girlfriend if she was interested in anything.

“Nah, we’re here for him.”

The saleslady laughed politely.

“No, seriously, it’s for me. I like to rock a dress from time to time,” I told her.

“Well, you don’t seem the type!”

“Don’t I? Damn. I’ll have to try harder.”

Uncertainty crossed her eyes.

“Let me know if you see anything you like,” she told my girlfriend, and left us alone. We departed about five seconds afterwards.

Instead, I found a couple of slinky purple dresses – one sparkly, one not – in American Apparel. I’m guessing it was a couple of college kids running the shop, and they were totally fine with me buying dresses. Kids today, huh?

Sing when you're whinnying?

Got milk?

Personally, I try not to buy stuff online – I like to actually see what the hell I’m getting first – but last year I succumbed to the temptations of a sale at Black Milk. Their range is of the tight’n’stretchy variety, so It takes a bit of dietary punishment to wear them confidently. I could go nuts clicking on purchases, but then a little voice has to restrain me: just when, precisely, do intend to wear a PVC skater dress?

Sometimes, the idea of wearing something is far better than the reality of it.

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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.