Your lives in a few words: before and after your love relationship
Alan (A) – I graduated from university in 1994 with an honours degree in Social Sciences – specialising in Cultural Theory and Post-Modernity. Perhaps not surprisingly, i began DJing and promoting club events almost immediately. I had been working successfully, if a little a-drift in this hedonistic environment, before meeting Nick in 1999.
Since beginning my relationship with Nick, and very much with his encouragement and support, i have been working in specialist Arts and Music PR since 2000. I first worked exclusively in electronic music with a European press agency, then decided to go freelance – moving into representation in theatre, performance, contemporary art and LGBTQI arts. I continued to work in tandem as a PR by day, and a DJ and club promoter by night right up until 2010 when i gave up all of my Djing to pursue a full time PR career. However the financial crash of 2008 threw a spanner into those happy plans.
Nick (N) – Having grown up in Brussels (with British parents) I moved to Scotland in 1989 to study Management. A year in Paris led to studying Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art and a job in London. London was fun for a while but Scotland beckoned me back. I came back to complete a Masters in 1999 with the intention of returning to the big smoke 5 months later. 21 years later I am still here, and the reason is Alan. He provided me with strength and security when I was a wee bit lost and has continued to do so ever since. We have grown together, have overlapping interest in architecture, the built environment and 80’s music European music and European music in general, and we are the best of friends. Alan is my boyfriend and very much my friend.
Your country is revamping a quite ‘cute’ idea of ‘autonomy’ in the very collapse of the Empire: is that too optimistic in a world which changes so fast as to be unrecognizable?
(A)- I would say the Empire as an actual geographic or political entity is now long in the past – though its scars it inflicted remain. I’’m skeptical of what is actually meant by “autonomy” as it is currently popularly invoked in the United Kingdom. It seems to me more a shared illusion than an practical outcome. We live in a fully global network – almost every aspect of our lives is determined by global chains of supply ; information, finance, culture, food, consumer goods…. This concept of a self-determined nation where the United Kingdom somehow retains an unspecified type of authority is frankly ridiculous. And each passing week the news reports on yet another aspect of our Brexit project that turns out to be a disaster or a fantasy.
I would say there is a distinct difference in political outlook in the United Kingdom – as represented by Westminster and the London political culture – and the outward looking optimism that Nick and i experience under the Scottish SNP government. The optic of messaging around internationalism and co-operation in Scotland is completely different, less petty or self-concerned, more optimistic, more outward looking. The rising popularity of Scottish independence is instigated, to my mind, on the restriction of Scotland’s self-determination in policy-making due to the over-riding power of the UK government. Scotland is a proudly multi-national country, and our leaders have been consistently clear about the values of internationalism and inter-relationships. Scotland has always had its own voice, though this is often been sidelined by the UK government. There is a stark difference in opinion about the value of being part of the European Union, and on the realities of international trade and exchange.
(N) – There is nothing cute about it. The UK’s autonomy is a lie and UK citizens have been fed misinformation for decades. It is the rich manipulating the poor, to make themselves richer, as is always the case. The UK government has always been cynical about the European project and the British press downright antagonistic. If you travel to France or Belgium you always see the national flag alongside the European flag, even in the smallest of rural towns. The message has always been clear and pro-European and supportive of all within the EU. As a child of parents who worked for the European Commission and who had limited experience of the UK, I remember how horrified I was to discover how negatively Europe was portrayed. Europe is by no means perfect and needs reform, but to simply walk away from something you have been involved with for almost 50 years is cowardly – you can only bring about meaningful change from inside. And to be clear, there is no empire, this has thankfully long since gone, and we now need to spend a lot more time repairing the damage that was done and the systemic racism that colonialism caused.
It may seem to be counter intuitive to be a supporter of the European Union but yet a firm advocate of Scottish Independence, however there is a significant difference. Europe is an organisation of equal states, the United Kingdom is not. Recent polls, in the wake of the Brexit disaster and the poor handling of the covid-19 pandemic by the British Government, has shown a ground swell of support for independence. I am optimistic that this will come about in the next few years and that Scotland will re-join the European Union. Scotland has always been the home of enlightenment and has always had strong links with the European mainland. We are politically and culturally far more progressive and this is demonstrated by The Scottish Governments steadfast pro-European stance and the clear message from the First Minister that mainland Europeans are, and will always be, welcome in Alba.
Your inner life: how do you blend one in each other and which is the spark keeping you so tight after a long partnership?
(A) – Patience! hahahah. Seriously though, in most ways we are very different people. We have different backgrounds socially, different cultural politics, different tastes in music, film, culture. There are visible differences in how we like to dress, what kind of friends we choose… We also have different strengths as people, different professional skills, and very different jobs. Despite this we are still much interested in each others creative lives and can share our interests Within all these many differences we have always found points of overlap, many things we both enjoy. Each of us has experienced personal difficulties with our careers, and been supported by the other both emotionally and financially. We have been able to step in and give strength to one another when as individuals we have not been able to rely on our own strengths. That support is shared without being asked for. Over the 20 years we have spent together we have come to KNOW each other very very well.
(N) Support and humour. When I first met Alan in 1999 I was quite lost. I was really suffering with coming to terms with my sexuality and as a result had battled with a few episodes of debilitating depression. I was low in self-confidence, despite having done well in my Masters. I find a job in Edinburgh which was not well paid, commuted daily from Glasgow, and suffered from bullying in the workplace. Alan was my rock financially and emotionally. That gave us a very good starting point as I knew from the start how committed, loyal and caring he was. My career has always been supported by Alan, and thanks to this I have done well. Alan has suffered a number of set backs in his careers as a dj and press offices, first in 2008 with the financial crash, and now again with the Covid-19 pandemic. These have been my times to support him financially and hopefully emotionally. We have many areas where our interests overlap. We don’t have the same interests but there is a large area of commonality. We can listen happily to the same music, watch the same films and documentaries, and we both abhor beach holidays, preferring to take to take city breaks as a cultural reinvigoration. And we laugh a lot, and make each other laugh. The pandemic has been a learning experience and has been a true test of how much time we can spend together. Despite living together for more than 20 years, we have NEVER spent 4 months together, as usually I spend more than 8 hours a day in the office. This has all changed and my working from home has not been a strain for either of us (I think!) and has shown that we can weather anything.
Your social life: both live immersed in a dense cultural and professional life, which has been heavily affected by the pandemic. What’s next, in your opinion? And which was the balance you applied before to don’t leave each other beneath, crushed in hard work and too many things to do?
(A) – Well, the impact of the pandemic for me may well be the total eradication of my current career. I have been working almost exclusively in event PR for the last 8 years or so. During the financial crisis of 2008 i lost every single one of my clients due to the massive cuts to the arts sector, and spent a long time building back up a portfolio of artists and clients to work with. Within a very short time of the announcement of lockdown here in the UK, all of my work for the remainder of 2020 was cancelled. Music festivals, theatre tours, album releases, club show and DJ tours, all of my theatre work across the Edinburgh Festivals in August…. every single thing.
My conversations with colleagues in PR and with clients and others working in the arts and entertainment sector of been pessimistic to say the least. Currently, I’m working to create an association of voices in the sector to take the plight of minority artists in the Glasgow grassroots electronic music scene to the agencies and organisation who will be planning the deployment of funding to support the arts sector across the next year. Attempting to make visible parts of the creative community and their cultural work, to push back against a funding logic that only measures cultural ‘value’ in terms of theatre and heritage.
One of the reasons i am able to undertake this unpaid project is that Nick has been incredibly lucky to have remained in full employment through the whole of the pandemic period, with three jobs – architect in practice, architectural tutor at the Mackintosh School, and an external examiner at Northumbria University, Newcastle.
It has really relieved the anxieties about work – which i have struggled with consistently in the past few years. There simply IS no work right now, and Nick can support us both. He has been working at home every day. A new form of working that seems to suit him very well, and has the additional benefit that we have been able to spend much more time together. Of particular interest is that i have been given and intensive view into the nature and scope of his working life.
(N) – What social life? No such thing really for the last 4 months. Thankfully the zoom quizzes have stopped and the facetime chats generally have become less frequent. I suppose we are lucky that we are at an age where we are not as affected by the lack of opportunities to meet folk in bars and clubs. I was drinking a bit too much before lock down and coming home worst for wear a couple of times a week after going to the pub after work. A lot of this was down to the pressures of work, and at Christmas of last year I decided to stop drinking completely. I figured that if I could get through a family Christmas without a drink, this would be the ultimate test. Covid-19 turned out to be the ultimate test however, and seven completely sober months later I am enjoying my new life of sobriety. It also has the added effect that I no longer have the same need to go to the pub (only so many lime and sodas you can drink). I have enjoyed spending all of my time with Alan, and we have of course started to see some friends outside now the lock down is easing. In some ways distance makes the heart grow fonder and you become much more aware of the people you do really miss and want to hang out with.
We are extremely lucky in that we have a spare bedroom that has always been set up as an office (with a sofa bed for occasional guests). This has made for a wonderful place for me to work, a far better environment from the slightly dishevelled office where I usually work with my other colleagues. I also spend a lot of my time in meetings with other folk so I am not feeling isolated or alone. And I have also been undertaking 3 jobs during the pandemic (as Alan has noted above) with 3 sets of colleagues so I have been very busy and my mind has been occupied.
The next thing will be to start going back into the office. I never intend to work full time in the office again and will no doubt work the ‘new normal’ with half the week at home and the other half back in the office. But, who knows. Judging by the spike in cases that Spain is currently re-experiencing at the end of July 2020, it may be some time before we go back to the office. Whatever happens, the world has changed forever, home working is now normal, not seeing people very often (if at all) is the new normal, and we have all become quickly used to a world where all physical contact is to be avoided. Not sure how I would cope without Alan to hug every day!
Growing old together: which was the fantasy about that before starting your journey and what is left from there in the practicalities of being together since many years
(A) – In my mid 20s i had no expectations of being in a relationship. Growing up in the UK as a teenager in the mid to late 80’s was not an encouraging environment for young closeted men. During the AIDS crisis, the pervading message everywhere was that if you ever had sex you would die. Escaping my small town roots and moving to university in Glasgow i spent a great deal of time during my years of study learning about my own sexuality (discovering fledgling Queer Theory discourse) and the boundaries of both the cultural and social life that were at the time available.
In that context, meeting Nick was really more of a surprise that an intention – and for me the relationship developed in the first year or so without me having expectations or projections about where it might go!
As time has passed, the many practicalities of a long term relations have been both rewarding, and challenging, to face. We have both i think learned a great deal about ourselves as much as we have grown to know each other – navigating the idiosyncrasies of our own personalities and habits as individuals while connecting as partners simultaneously. Not that there aren’t still the odd fractious moments! But Nick and I remain very happy together.
(N) – As a gay man I suppose you grow up to expect an unhappy life, especially from our generation. Society and the odds generally are stuck against long term successful same sex relationships. When I met Alan (he will laugh at this as I love to repeat it), it was not love at first site. There was however, some sort of instant connection. We initially met in a club (hahaha) where we were both out with friends. We all ended up dancing stupidly together and that was all. I then met Alan again at the Art School a few weeks later. A few weeks after that I moved in with him. That was 20 years ago.
I think there was no expectation in our relationship and if anything it was rockier at the start, because of my own lack of confidence, than it is now. Is Alan who I thought I would end up with – probably not. Am I glad I did – wholeheartedly yes.
A place that makes you feel at home, wherever located
(A) – With both of us having families who no longer live in the homes we grew up in as children and teenagers, the place first and foremost that we feel at home is in our current residence, which has become even more of a sanctuary and safe haven through the pandemic lockdown. One place that we both love visiting equally, and where we have in the past five years come to see as a possible second home is Brussels.
(N) – Home is home. I feel so safe and content in our flat. We live on the top floor of a traditional Victorian Glasgow tenement flat, located in Glasgow’s leafy west-end on a hill. The close (communal stair) is shared with 7 other lovely neighbours and once you reach open the storm doors and inner door to our flat, close both of these behind you, you feel like you are in a fortified citadel overlooking the city. I feel so calm, safe and at home here and can stay in for days on end without venturing outside. All of the rooms have large windows that capture southern light, with views over communal gardens and the towers of the city centre in the distance.
The other place I consider to be home is Brussels, a city I lived in for 15 years as a child, but have only really begun to truly know in the past 15 years. It is our favourite holiday destination and we visit as often as we can. Everything is so familiar to me and I understand how the city operates. We have our favourite spots to hang out and the city is such a pleasure to cycle around (very different to when I was a child!). If I had the money, I would definitely love to have a small studio flat in Brussels and would visit regularly. However, as a result of Covid-19, this seems like a less likely possibility, even if it were affordable!
The music and the book(s) with you now
(A) – Choosing music is difficult for me, because at all times i have so much of it swirling inside my head. With 25 years of DJing and collecting records and CDs i have a fairly significant collection (Nick does worry about he storage issues!). Plus i remain a voracious seeker of new music and have been running a weekly radio show for almost 7 years now (Covid-19 disrupting the regularity recently though)
The easiest way i can choose is to simply pull out what has been on my playlist this week….
BOOKS – ‘Aliens & Anorexia” Chris Krause / ‘Conflict is not Abuse’ Sarah Schulman /
‘The Life & Death of the New York Dancefloor’ – Tim Lawrence /
‘Killing Rage: Ending Racism’ Bell Hooks / ‘Who Owns The Future’- Jaron Lanier.
MUSIC :- ‘Delos’ LP – Murlo / “Vergogna Schifosi” LP – Ennio Morricone / “Kaddish” – Gina X /
‘Kaje, Bre’ – Oliver Mandić / ‘Leon’ – Reymour / “Climb the Walls’ – John Martyn /
‘Infinity my Lord’ – Ela Orleans / ’78 Sutra’ – Sun Araw
(N) – Very much French music, 80’s music, any music. I listen to Fip radio a lot during the day when I am at work, and I am an avid consumer of all things music. Although I cannot play any instruments and have never had the inclination to take up djaying, I am an avid consumer of all music and constantly on the look out for new things. I have apple music on all my devices and am constantly shazamming stuff and downloading it to listen to. The main thing I am not interested in is what is in the charts. I always thought it would be a sad day and a sign of growing old when I didn’t know what was no 1. However, my musical taste is now far more eclectic and sophisticated and encompasses music from all eras and genres. Musically at present, if I look at my latest downloads – Sebastien Tellier, Sufjan Stevens, Louis-Jean Cornier, Le Couleur, Petit Prince, Bibio, Babe, Photay, Nicola Cruz.
Books – I have bought a lot of books recently. I don’t seem to have read any of them yet however, never seem to find the time. When I do read, I read a lot more factual books rather than novels. Most seem to have an architectural bias.
I tend to buy physical architecture books, the latest purchase being a large tome covering the works of Flemish architectural practice Stephane Beel Architects. Downloaded books I have to get round to reading include – ‘Men explaining things to me and other essays’ – Rebecca Solnit, ‘Doughnut Economic’ – Kate Raworth, ‘Estates’ ‘ Lynsey Hanley (second read), ‘Rebel Ideas’ – Matthew Syed. Last book I actually read ? I think it was ‘Bruxelles, Un hameau dans un marais’ – Marc Didden, but it was probably a year ago (work has sadly been too encompassing to read).
Your next place of this world on the top list to visit doesn’t matter when
(A) – New Zealand!±!±
(N) – Brussels and the Belgian Coast. Would also like to join the buy / rent a camper van trend amongst Scottish folk and go and explore the Highlands and Islands.
What have you learned so far from this crazy planet?
(A) – The world will not be changed if you change only yourself.
(N) – The world would be far less interesting without music, and the grass is not always greener on the other side.