God Save The Sea Queen

An excerpt from Mark Simpson’s Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture’, now avail­able on Kindle

Gibraltar, oth­er­wise known as ‘The Rock’, is the full stop to the sen­tence of Europe. It has been besieged no less than four­teen times. The Ancients thought it was a pil­lar hold­ing up the end of the World. In the Middle Ages Jews fled here from the red-hot instru­ments of the Spanish Inquisition. Aeons ago, the last sur­viv­ors of the ancest­ors of Homo sapi­ens also retreated to this toothy promon­tory of the Iberian pen­in­sula, last­ing a few, increas­ingly lonely, thou­sand years more in the dark caves that abound here, before being finally snuffed out by Progress.

Even today, rare and exotic creatures sur­vive here that have long since become extinct else­where in Continental Europe. Off one of the nar­row, steep, cobbled streets, down some worn steps, there’s a dark cel­lar bar, that holds out against not only the Twenty First Century but much of the lat­ter half of the Twentieth. This is the domain and refuge of the last of the Sea Queens, Lovely Charlie, land­locked in the last corner of the British Empire.

The brick walls and vaul­ted ceil­ing of Charlie’s domain are com­pletely covered in battered Royal Navy Ensign flags. All of them have per­sonal mes­sages scrawled across them in Secondary Modern hands: ‘To Lovely Charlie, from the lads on HMS Sheffield — We think you’re magic!’ (dated 1981, the year before it was sunk by an Argentine Exocet in The Falklands); ‘Donkey Nob Was Here – 1979’’; and ‘Royal Marine Commandos do it in boats – 1989’. Signed pho­tos of sun­burnt, laugh­ing young men with cans of lager in their hands and their arms around each other’s shoulders cover the wall next to the bar, together with post­cards from Hong Kong, Belize, Brunei, Germany and Kuwait.

Tonight how­ever Charles’ Hole-in-the-Wall bar — the finest bar on the Seven Seas — is com­pletely empty, except for Charles him­self, a well-preserved, hand­some middle-aged man with glit­tery ear-studs and immacu­late hair, sit­ting at the bar, and his snooz­ing big black lab­rador, heavy eye­lids sag­ging. ‘Well, come in, luv,’ he says, happy to see a face. ‘Sorry it’s so quiet tonight. The Fleet’s out. Mind, it always fookin’ is these days! Are you a mate­lot? ‘No? What’s that you say? You’re look­ing for one? Aren’t we all, luv!’ he laughs, and gets me a bottled beer.

It was best when the fron­tier with Spain was closed,’ he remin­isces, in his effort­lessly camp but strangely butch Gibraltarian English, com­ic­ally spiked with some coarse, regional Brit expres­sions he’s obvi­ously picked up from his cli­en­tele. ‘When Franco shut the bor­der in 1967 that was the begin­ning of twenty years of bloody bliss, y’know. When hun­dreds of sail­ors have been out at sea for weeks and they dock here, they’re not going to let the fact that there aren’t enough single women on Gib to make a foot­ball team stop them hav­ing a fookin’ good time, luv!’

And they didn’t mind their mates find­ing out; they’d just say, “I bet you had a fookin’ good time with Charlie gob­blin’ yer last night!” and every­body would laugh. Of course, who gobbled whom wasn’t always the way they painted it – but that was some­thing private between me and them. Things aren’t the same now. I still get offers – but they’re much more furt­ive; they’re afraid that every­one will think they’re gay just because they had a bit of fun with Charlie. And then in 1987 they only went and opened the fookin’ fron­tier, didn’t they? Now most of the lads head off for the bright lights of Marbella. I can’t com­pete with dolly-birds and disco, can I luv?’

But it isn’t about sex,’ explains Charlie, sip­ping a min­eral water (he’s tee­total). ‘It’s the com­pany. The camaraderie. It’s my duty to run this bar! I’m a legend in the Royal Navy, y’know. I’ve been to Portsmouth and Plymouth. They treated me like a real Queen. There was noth­ing they wouldn’t do for me. I was really moved. I was in Edinburgh once, and a lad came up to me and said, “It’s Lovely Charlie, isn’t it!’ He was very sweet. He whispered, “Look, Charles, you can’t wear that much jew­ellery around here. They won’t under­stand”.’

I’m passed down, father to son. I had an eighteen-year-old sailor come in here last month, his first time. He said: “That door’s new,” point­ing to that door over there to the pool-room which I had installed about ten year ago. “How did you know that?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, ‘my dad’s got a pic­ture of him sit­ting on your knee. It was the year before he met me mam.”

They like to tell the new­bies that they’re going to sell them to me for a round of drinks, y’know. Of course, that doesn’t hap­pen. I’d never take advant­age. But they like to wind up the young­sters. One lad came here with his Dad – the Navy has a Father’s week where they fly fath­ers who were in the Navy out here to travel home on board ship with their sons. He said: “Well, ‘ere you go Charles, you can ‘ave your wicked way wiv ‘im if you keep the drinks comin’!” I laughed and said, “Well, you’re his dad, so I sup­pose that makes it legal!” You should have seen the poor boy’s face!’

Oh yes, occa­sion­ally you get trouble-makers. They come here say­ing how much they “’ate fookin’ queers”. Everyone goes quiet because they know he’s going to get a tongue lash­ing from me. I usu­ally say some­thing like, “And I ‘ate fookin’ ugly cunts like you, luv!” Everyone usu­ally pisses them­selves laugh­ing. And usu­ally,’ adds Charlie, wink­ing, ‘they end up stay­ing the night…’.

I can’t go on forever, though y’know. I’m not as young as I used to be. But the mate­lots, bless ‘em, they don’t notice any of this decay! They always say, “Oh, Charlie, you never change!” and I say to them, “Well, no, but the wattage does!” Charlie laughs. ‘Every year a bit less. I star­ted off here with 100W bulbs. Now I’m down to 10W. And tin­ted!

What’s that? Why do the lads love me so? Oh it’s because they know I love them,’ he explains with a shrug. ‘And I’m always here. Unlike bar­maids, I don’t regard them as a prob­lem or as a meal-ticket. And, of course,’ he smiles, wink­ing, ‘they do like my out­rageous beha­viour. They always insist that I wear all my jew­ellery when they come to visit.’

A few hours and a crate of beer later I’m stag­ger­ing back to my hotel and can’t help think­ing that the reason the sail­ors treat Charlie like a star is simply because they recog­nise one when they see one. Lovely Charlie is, well, lovely. And price­less. When he finally calls last orders, or runs out of wattage, a little but pre­cious piece of British mari­time and marytime his­tory will be lost forever.

This piece was ori­gin­ally writ­ten back in 2000, but I’m very happy to report that Charles is still going full steam ahead, and so is a recently-refurbished Charles’ Hole-in-the-Wall bar — he’s even upped the wattage! (Castle Street, Gibraltar; opens at 9pm.) 

Sex With Someone You Love

To cel­eb­rate National Masturbation Month HuffPo have pos­ted a ver­sion of an essay of mine col­lec­ted in Sex Terror on how ‘self-abuse’ came out of the cubicle, tis­sue stuck to its shoe:

You see, wank­ing is a nor­mal form of human sexual beha­vior, and inter­course is the devi­ation. Most men, even those in long-term rela­tion­ships — sorry, espe­cially those in long-term rela­tion­ships — have orgasmed alone more times than they have done with oth­ers. After all, we peak sexu­ally long before any­one will go out with us.

And if God hadn’t wanted us to wank, would he have put our hands at crotch level? (Of course, maybe he just wanted to make things really dif­fi­cult for us.) As any anthro­po­lo­gist will tell you, when Homo erectus stood up, the first thing he reached for was his tool.

Read it here.

Sex Terror’ Now Available on Kindle — Sweet Dreams.



Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

Mark Simpson

This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.


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 In his full-frontal follow-up to his widely acclaimed It’s a Queer World, Mark Simpson dis­penses with the mon­key busi­ness of sexu­al­ity and gets to grips with the organ grinder itself: SEX.

Subjecting our saucy new god to his sac­ri­le­gious satire, Simpson sins against every con­tem­por­ary com­mand­ment about doing the nasty: It must be hot. It must be fre­quent. It must wake the neigh­bours. And it must be Who You Are.

Simpson argues that we all put far too much faith in sex these days, and that in actual fact sex is messy, con­fus­ing, frus­trat­ing, and ulti­mately disappointing.

Especially if you’re hav­ing it with him.

Along the way he gets worked up with Alexis Arquette over Stephen Baldwin’s bubble-butt, gets intim­ate with Dana International, Aiden Shaw and Bruce LaBruce, and – very gingerly – con­fronts Henry Rollins with those ‘gay’ rumours.


Praise for Sex Terror:

MARVELLOUS… open Simpson’s book at any point, as many times as you want, and you’ll find the sort of gem-like sen­tences that Zadie Smith would give her white teeth for.”

- Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday

A chain­saw cock of wit… blis­ter­ingly, endear­ingly hon­est… insight­ful and valu­able.  VERY FUNNY INDEED.”

- Dermod Moore, The Hot Press

Setting com­mon sexual sense on its ear, Simpson’s Swiftian pro­pos­als strike at an emo­tion dear to us: sexual desire. His anarchic mis­sion is to free sex from ser­mon­iz­ing, con­ven­tion, ego­ism, and cul­tural bias. But unlike Foucault, his decon­struct­ing weapon is built of rib­ald humour and pot­shots at pre­ten­sion. Simpson’s essays pro­duce ran­cour and HILARIOUS LAUGHTER, DISBELIEF AND DELIGHT. Some call him won­der­ful, and some call him out­rageous, but I call him A TRUE ORIGINAL and YOU SHOULDN’T MISS THIS BOOK.”

– Bruce Benderson, author of Pretending to Say No and User

BRILLIANT… With sur­gical pre­ci­sion Mark Simpson peels away the lay­ers of mod­ern mas­cu­line cul­ture, leav­ing few iconic fig­ures un-scarred. This book is cer­tain to pro­voke and likely to offend; we would expect noth­ing less from one of the most import­ant voyeurs of con­tem­por­ary life.”

– Bob Mould, Musician and Songwriter

When the cul­ture of sex breathes its final breath, Mark Simpson will be there to deliver the eulogy with great zeal. And what a GLORIOUSLY SARDONIC AND INSIGHTFUL farewell it will be!”

– Glenn Belverio, Dutch magazine

“One of those books that bounces up and down on your knee yelling ‘read me, read me…. Brutal hon­esty and razor wit  — a per­fect feast. QUOTABLE GENIUS.”

- RainbowNetwork.com

BLOODY GOOD…  every out­rageous insight is just that – an insight into the mod­ern  con­di­tion that often makes you laugh out loud and, if you are not entirely bey­ond hope, think. Simply some of the best writ­ing on mod­ern cul­ture around.”

- Brian Dempsey, Gay Scotland

One of England’s MOST ELOQUENT AND SARDONIC commentators.”

– Bay Windows

Mark Simpson won’t be every reader’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy a biter blend of DARK HUMOUR AND KEEN SOCIAL OBSERVATION will want to drink deeply.”

– Washington Blade

…never fails to amuse, bemuse, stun and stir… a writer at his peak, a SHAMELESS SUMPTUOUS SERVING OF SOCIAL SATIRE you’ll be digest­ing long after you put the book down”

– All Man Magazine















English author and journ­al­ist Mark Simpson is credited/blamed for coin­ing the word ‘met­ro­sexual‘. Simpson is the author of sev­eral books includ­ing: Saint MorrisseyMale Impersonators, and Metrosexy.


Sex Terror cover image taken by Michele Martinoli.

Casual Pick-Up


A couple of miles past Newark, bored and hot and top down, I zoom past a crop-haired sexy young lout in a T-shirt and jeans with his thumb out. I eye him in the rear-view mir­ror as he shrinks into the distance.

I don’t give lifts to hitch­hikers. It’s ask­ing for trouble.

OK, so I used to hitch­hike every­where myself years ago when I didn’t have the price of a bus ticket to my name. But now I have my own car, a nice sporty little (used) soft-top, things have changed. I now real­ise the Daily Mail was right: hitch­hikers are lay­abouts and bad news. Only loon­ies, drug addicts and con­victs hitch-hike these days. So, really, let­ting a com­plete stranger into your car and your nicely ordered life is a bad idea. It’s dan­ger­ous. It’s messy. It’s daft. Unless of course, they’re cute.

I brake. Hard.

In the rear-view mir­ror the lad sees me pull over but seems hes­it­ant. I twist around and shout: ‘Well, c’mon then mate! Do you want a lift or not?’ He finally runs up to the passenger-side window.

Where are you headed?’ I ask.

London, mate,’ he says.

I look him up and down. In his mid-twenties, he’s not bad look­ing, but he isn’t as cute as he was at 75mph. But then, who is? He could do with a bath. And he def­in­itely looks like trouble.

Get in,’ I say, lean­ing across and open­ing the door. ‘I’m headed for Cambridge,’ I lie. ‘I can take you another thirty miles.’

Nice one!’ he says with a wide grin, jump­ing in.

Rejoining the flow of cars headed south, we chat the cas­u­ally polite chat of hitch­hikers and drivers. I intro­duce myself; he intro­duces him­self as ‘John, but me mates call me Jonno’. He tells me he was in Newark ‘vis­it­ing rel­at­ives’ and now he’s on his way back home to Dover: ‘I’ll catch the train in London’. He tells me about his wife and his three-year-old daugh­ter in Dover: ‘I love that kid to bits — I live for her mate’. We pass a sign: ‘London: 60 miles’.

I’m really glad you stopped mate,’ he says for the third time.

Yeah?’ I say. ‘S’funny. You seemed a bit reluct­ant at first. Thought you were going to run away.’

Jonno looks a bit sheep­ish. ‘Well, thing is mate, to be totally hon­est wiv you, there are some people after me. I owe money to some geez­ers in Newark. I thought you might have been sent by them — not being funny, but you look a bit of a bruiser mate!’

Don’t worry,’ I reas­sure him. ‘It’s just for show. What do you owe them money for?’

Oh. This and that.’


Jonno shifts in his seat and shakes his head. ‘No — no way mate!’

Look, it doesn’t mat­ter to me’.

Jonno looks down at his hands. ‘Well, to be totally hon­est wiv you mate, it was drugs. But only speed, and a bit of hash. Nothing hard. I’m try­ing to get off the shit, you know? I’m try­ing to get clean. I’ve gotta think of the kid, man. I can’t be fucked up around her, can I?’

No, mate. Not a good idea.’

London: 30 miles

Mark mate, haven’t we passed the sign for Cambridge?’

Yeah. To be totally hon­est with you, I’m going to London, not Cambridge. I usu­ally don’t tell hitch­ers how far I’m going in case we, er… don’t get on.’

Oh, right mate. I under­stand.’ Jonno grins at me. ‘So you’re going to London? Sorted!’

So…’ I probe, ‘what were you really doing in Newark?’

You’re not stu­pid, are you? Well, to be totally hon­est wiv you I was on remand there for a week.’

Really?’ I say cas­u­ally, try­ing not to look too interested.

Yeah. Nothing ser­i­ous though. Just non-payment of a fine, like. Never again. It was dis­gust­ing in there mate. Hottest week of the year in a shi­thole with no showers or change of clothes. I fuck­ing stink mate’

Yeah, I noticed! So what was the fine you didn’t pay?’

Well, to be totally hon­est wiv you mate, I was done for breach of the peace and crim­inal dam­age. I kicked my ex-wife’s door down because she wouldn’t let me see my kid. I was really drunk at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing.’

So, you’re not with your wife any more?’

No mate. We sep­ar­ated a couple of years back, and she lets me see my kid once a week. But she wouldn’t that night coz I was steam­ing. I ‘ate prison. I was sent to bor­stal when I was thir­teen and had the shit kicked out of me. It was that bad I tried to top meself.’ He holds out his hands, wrists upper­most, reveal­ing a pair of ropy white scars across his dirty wrists.

Jonno con­tin­ues: ‘I only ended up in bor­stal coz me step­dad used to knock me about. He used to kick the shit out of me mum and I tried to stop ‘im, and so he turned on me. The worst of it was, she was egging ‘im on! Didn’t spend much time at home after that. Fell in wiv a bad crowd.’

London 20 miles

I’ve got some mates who live in London,’ Jonno announces, as the sun lowers itself into a red bath on the Western hori­zon. ‘They live in Soho. Is that any­where near you?’

No,’ I say. ‘I live a very long way from Soho — as far as you can get without actu­ally leav­ing London. Your friends must pay a lot of rent to live there.’

Yeah, but they don’t care. They make a packet.’ Pause. ‘To be totally hon­est wiv you, they’re on the game, if you know what I mean.’

Yeah, I know what you mean.’

They’re gay,’ he adds, driv­ing the point home. He looks at me anxiously. ‘You don’t mind gay people do you?’

No, I don’t mind gay people,’ I lie. ‘Actually, some of my best friends are gay.’

Really? Sorted. I was a bit wor­ried there, coz some people really hate gays.’

Terrible isn’t it?’ I say.

London: 10 miles

Are you sure you don’t mind gay people?’


OK. Well, to be totally hon­est wiv you, right, I swing both ways.’ Jonno steals a side­ways look at me.

Yeah?’ I say.

Yeah. That’s not a prob­lem is it?’

Nah,’ I say. ‘Not at all. Everyone’s thought about it, at least once, haven’t they?’

I like women and that, but I also like, y’know a really good see­ing to by someone who takes con­trol. Well,’ he laughs, ‘in the bed­room, not in real life like me mum!’

Like your true des­tin­a­tion, you don’t tell a hitch-hiker your real ori­ent­a­tion until you’re cer­tain you want to go all the way with him. But I can see that this lad has the meas­ure of me and where this car jour­ney is headed. It’s a balmy even­ing; it’s sort of spon­tan­eous. He’s rough, he’s cer­tainly ready. But I’m not. And not just because he’s not washed for a week. I’ve heard much too much for it to be cas­ual. We’ve come too far.

It’s dark when we arrive in London — without any unplanned stops at bushy lay-bys. I drop him off. He shakes my hand firmly look­ing me in the eye: ‘Cheers, Mark, thanks for the lift,’ he says, a faint flicker of dis­ap­point­ment in his face. ‘It was good talk­ing to you.’ And he’s gone.

I drive off. A minute later I sud­denly feel I have to speak to him again. I turn the car around. Maybe to lend him some money — I’m sure he hasn’t got any for the train to Dover. Maybe to be ‘totally hon­est’ with him. Maybe to offer him a place to crash. Or have a bath.

But there’s no trace of Jonno. He’s dis­solved into the warm, unfriendly London night.

Like I said, it’s a bad idea let­ting a com­plete stranger into your life.

Some details have been changed to pro­tect the innocent.

(Originally appeared in Attitude, 2000. Collected in Sex Terror)