Tomorrow! I'm going tomorrow!

With a friend I’m going road tripping across France, Spain and Switzerland in sunglasses, little shorts and a Volkswagen van. But before you start thinking this is a hippie pilgrimage, the VW California is from 2006, has blacked out windows, air con, an iPod cable and can go fast. The roof rises to make a double bed but the seats also fold down to make a second double bed inside the main body of the vehicle, making the VW California perfect for parking up outside nightclubs as well as on the beach at night. We're mixing the trip up with hotels though, we're not that rough n' roll, and will be staying in Sitges for a few days in the middle of the trip.

So the Jack of Hearts will be dormant now until August, but I’ll be writing four exciting pieces for Gay Times on Paris, on Toulouse, on Sitges and on something else, so make sure to keep an eye on my GT blog for behind the wheel gossip, action-packed anecdotes and some knees bend arm stretch RA RA RA.

See you in August.
Jack xx

The Villa Mauresque on the French Riviera.

The VW California. Ours is black obviously.

A French boy courtesy of Google images.

Summer Arrivals: Top 5 Holiday Buys

Some cool new stuff I've bought in preparation for my pending roadtrip. Now all I need are important things like underwear, sun lotion and swimwear. Did you know that you can't wear swimshorts in French swimming pools? And you thought on burkas was the most daring chapter in their sartorial law. Nay, you have to wear tight-ass swim skimps in French pools, apparently to defer dirty randomers from going for a swim on a whim in their daywear, but we all know really it's because the French love a big penis and strive long and hard to have any building, meal or president that looks like one. So, here are my Top 5 Holiday Buys:

1) Vampire Teeth Tee

Fits perfectly, has a brilliant design, fucking cheap. Plus nobody cool shops in New Look so you're not going to see anyone else wearing it. I only went in there originally because there's a Starbucks on the top floor. A real steal.

2) Silver Rucksack with built-in speakers

Chavs eat your empty crisp-packet hearts out. This rucksack is designed for small girls but also appeals to part-time party monsters. Just look at it! There's nothing more inconsiderate or horrid than a person playing their own music in public without communal consent, especially on a beach. Still, it's more of an image thing. The first thing my friend said when they saw this was - THAT IS SO JACK!

3) Washed Out - Life of Leisure

Now a roadtrip needs lots of music, indeed, something old, something new, something borrowed and nothing by Blue. This new chill out electro album by Washed Out will be a blissful hangover classic, take a listen yourself on his MySpace. With its slow loops, laidback melodies and live percussion samples, beautiful.

4) Palace Walk - Naguib Mahfouz
I'm taking quite a few racy out-of-print reads on holiday, found in the dark corners of the second hand section in Marchmant Street's bookshop Gay's The Word. Still, it's always nice to have something sophisticated and meticulously written too, so Mahfouz's Nobel Prize winning novel Palace Walk will do just fine.

£6.99 From Amazon

5) DKNY - Pure

Summer scents are essential and I just love those crossover discoveries when you discover a scent designed for the opposite sex that works really well for you. DKNY Pure is just what I need in a roadtrip beach scent. Nothing too invasive, clean and gentle but seductive nevertheless.

Trip Down Memory Stick Lane: Websites from Wayback

Did you know that there's an online service called the "Wayback Machine" that lets you browse websites from, well, way back? I discovered it this afternoon and it's absolutely fascinating. All sorts of sites that I frequently visit are stored in there and preserved in cyber vinegar for us to stare at and tap. Entertaining and ever so slightly haunting, I also found it quite educational to take a peek at how various websites looked back in say 2006, or even 1996.

For most of us it's a fun blast from the past, but for younger online users they can see how their favourite websites looked... before they were born!

Not all websites are in there and some legal disputes have risen over the years regarding the Wayback Machine. There is an opt-out service, so some big bad wolves who don't want you prying at their digital get-up from the turn of the century can stop you from doing so by placing robot.txts in their code to stop Alexa from crawling it (image of Keanu Reeves fighting a platinum turantula anyone?).

Some of you will find this very boring, but for those of you who, like me, harbour a secret geek somewhere behind all that chic - here are some screen grabs for you of sites that interested me...

> Alexander McQueen's site, eagerly anticipated and "coming soon", WAYBACK in 2004:

> The Guardian's website, called Guardian Unlimited, WAYBACK in 2005, looking a bit like a betting website or a socialist student newspaper:

If you look at the Guardian's homepages from the 90s, they're the sort of thing you'd expect from a local village hall website. Still, pioneering considering how WAYBACK it was.

> Hotmail's login page WAYBACK in 2000, looking a like hosepipe warranty or the sticker on a tub of protein powder:

> J.K.Rowling's official site WAYBACK in 2001 when she was popular but not exactly a big deal (a few billion pounds later and a more flash website appeared):

From McDonalds to Michael Jackson, it's all in there.
Ooh, and there's a brilliant blog all about crap old websites here: Your Crap Old Website - the posts on Madonna, theme parks and Gay Times are very amusing.

REVIEW "Because You’re Just The Writer”: Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

"Bret takes David Hockney’s vision of California and fists it"

His last three novels barely touched upon the greatness of Less Than Zero, Rules of Attraction or American Psycho, so it is refreshing and exciting to see Bret back at his best with Imperial Bedrooms.

The book operates within a realm of metafiction where Less Than Zero, the 1980s prequel, is a novel that exists in the characters' lives too, written and based on their younger selves, and Clay discusses his thoughts on its publication. The film adaptation is mocked by Clay as being “very different from the book in that nothing from the book was in the movie”, and Clay is amused that it depicts Blair discovering her Dad having an extramarital affair with a woman, when it was a teenage boy and her Dad in fact died of AIDS.
Again and again, Bret attacks Hollywood for its mindboggling surface ignorance of homosexuality’s existence, whilst indentifying the illegal underworld that thrives on this denial. Hollywood is a closet, a cupboard full of Armani jackets and dangling skeletons, and this claustrophobia intensifies as we see the same characters sipping cocktails around the same pools, and still chained to each other helplessly.

Bret keeps one step ahead of critics this time, even mimicking the cotton candy sycophantism that journalists write about his work – “showcasing the youthful indifference, the gleaming nihilism, glamorizing the horror of it all.”

As Clay, Blair, Trent and Julian sit in the cinema watching themselves Imperial Bedrooms touches upon a bizarre Christmas Carol element of self-examination which then caves in to parody and plastic, ending up a bit like the episode of Ab Fab where Eddie and Patsy watch themselves in Saffy’s play.

Interestingly is it Rip, once-upon-a-time a cute drug dealer in Less Than Zero who gave boys weed for sucking him off, who leads the pack now, grossly obsessed with the acquisition of an actress. Rip emerges as a kind of super villain and truly the stuff of nightmares. Having undergone plastic surgery beyond recognition, Rip manages a circle of underage escorts, which in turn becomes a profitable blackmailing device.

Paranoia storms through Imperial Bedrooms on a level that could rival Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. Bret doesn’t quite embrace 2010, making no attempt to engage with Google and Facebook (nor do any of his vacuous wannabe actresses Tweet at all), but he does give an important place to text messages, represented as ghostly apparitions in the backs of BMWs.

Imperial Bedrooms is in many ways a celebration of Bret’s work. Blair and Rain are desperate and dead inside like the women in Glamorama, there are elements of the supernatural that nod towards The Informers and there are trinklets of youth observation to be found that are reminiscent of Rules of Attraction. The violence is unbelievably more brutal than American Psycho, with hard-hitting internet torture scenes and significantly Julian’s dead body that is described on Page 2 as looking like an American flag– “A white Tom Ford suit… streaked with red… his crumpled face was a blue so dark it was almost black.”

Bret takes David Hockney’s vision of California and fists it. We see a copy of Less Than Zero sinking into a swimming pool whilst indoors Clay beats and fucks a boy from an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot who will do literally anything to become an actor.

Yet Imperial Bedrooms is a beautiful and well-written novel and the classic Easton Ellis paradigm of accusations and accolades aimed at big bad Hollywood is at its strongest. Bret seems at his happiest in his own work here too, delighting in the rancid and shitty sexual fantasies and hammering home his own home-grown themes that all of us are for sale, all of us write ourselves, all of us re-write ourselves, and then finally erase ourselves into oblivion.
Imperial Bedrooms evolves into a fantastic poolside thriller. Who's sending the anonymous texts? Who's fucking Rain? Why do actresses keep disappearing? What does Blair know that Clay doesn't? Who's memorial service will it be next week? What does Rip really want?

Imperial Bedrooms is out now in hardback, RRP £16.99

Bret Easton Ellis will also be at Latitude festival later this month.

Above: Doheny Plaza, where Clay lives in the apartment of a dead boy that haunts him.

Top 10 Male Scents: The Best Aftershaves of All Time

Choosing the right scent is a tough challenge for the contemporary man about town and often one he doesn't have time for. It doesn't help that the nose can only assess three scents thoroughly in the space of two hours. Nor does it help that greedy designers push men into making the wrong purchase by seducing them with billboards of ripped six packs diving into glistening carribean waters, dapper diegos in tight Armani suits or Lacoste lovelies floating through the air with perfect hair. There's no knowing which scent is the one for you, sometimes a combination is required to truly match your personal aura, odour and fleshtone. Ideally men should have four scents: a day scent for work and lunch; a sexy scent for fun and partying; a serious scent for expensive dinners, important meetings and funerals, and a summer scent for the outdoors, the beach and weddings.

The 10 scents in this list are all brilliant, but that's not to say they'll work. Even the most right scents can smell very wrong on some people. Of course the image is important to an extent, not just for its psychological impact but because most designers will develop their scent to operate in tangent with their house's image and typical clientele. But remember - no scent will make you look like James Franco or Travis Fimmel, so stop staring at the adverts and start smelling.

10) CK One Kicking off our Top 10 it’s Calvin Klein with CK One. A failsafe unisex scent that most of us have dabbled in at some point in our adolescence, CK One is like that first glass of wine after work.

9) Polo Sport – Ralph Lauren It only goes with the bodies of a select few and bares that post-preppy smell of a randy Etonian who wants to be a side character in Rules of Attraction. As Patsy would say “I love the smell of a ripe tuck box.”

8) Diesel Fuel For Life Fuel For Life invaded the scent scene a couple of years back with its rustic and spicy charisma. Like snogging a film star while swigging Jack Daniels at a motel gas station, Fuel For Life was a real winter warmer, while it lasted.

7) Joop – Homme Whilst All About Adam and Jump were well-formed scents from Joop, it was Homme that enjoyed the long lasting joopilation. Bright pink, exotic but surprisingly masculine. Joop Homme is like Ricky Martin dancing naked in the rain. A real hit with the ladies, bless them.

6) YSL – L’Homme (Summer) When team Yves march into the perfumery nobody knows what to expect. YSL L’Homme was their greatest hit but a little too strong, so when the Summer edition was released it was just right. Sadly though the chunk-galunk bottle makes it a beach-bag no-no. YSL's L'Homme (Summer) is like a beautiful undressed body resting on a wicker chaise longue in a summer house.

5) Boss – Hugo Boss The sophisticated counterpart to HUGO by Hugo Boss. BOSS is an all time classic and can be seen in its empty state on the bathroom window ledge of any notable bachelor at their dinner party. A gorgeous spritzer, a late summer evening, an elixir of success and bedroom manners.

4) Jean-Paul Gaultier – Le Male (Summer) Not many aftershaves have a place in cultural history. Jean Paul-Gaultier’s iconic Le Male does. A cosmestics milestone in the development of any serious man’s style and masculinity, getting to grips with Le Male is a degree in fashion PR itself. However, the scent is bit dull and ever so slightly metallic. Roll on the Summer editions which are fruity and just spot on. Since so many people collect the bottles it’s near impossible to pick up Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male (Summer) from the high street. It's one of those online or airport affairs, a bit like my sex life.

3) Paco Rabanne – 1 Million Currently enjoying mainstream success with teenagers, stylish straight men and the senior ranks of the Topman army, when Paco Rabanne 1 Million appeared in 2008 the bright future of the scent was just utterly predictable. Shiny, uplifting, dazzling, erotic, understated, passionate, addictive. Paco Rabanne created his youngest smelling scent to date and struck gold.
2) Calvin Klein – Crave Ok, Travis Fimmel may have helped on the PR side, but what many don’t realise is that Crave was Calvin Klein’s best ever scent. They shocked themselves with how good it was and eventually took it off the shelves because (as urban legend has it) they were scared it would undermine their other products, including the then new (and pretty shit) CK IN 2 U. Crave was magnificent, it smelt like the sun glistening off a newly polished surfboard strapped to the top of Marlon Brando’s car. Crave was clean and citrusy but one of the few male aftershaves to really pull off a citrus tone. Crave was just excellent and will forever be missed.

1) Bond No. 9 – Hamptons Bond No. 9 are an artistic concept store based in New York, each of their scents reflecting a different area of the city, and with a few novelty editions like a special Andy Warhol line. Each named after a part of New York, Park Avenue, Wall Street and Riverside Drive are popular, but its Hamptons that takes 1st prize. Hamptons smells like happiness, success and dreams fulfilled. Hamptons smells like blissfully lounging on a yacht and taking a deep relaxing sigh. Hamptons smells like wild desires that have been realised, materialised and reflected upon with a heart-warming smile.
And so that brings you to the end of Jack’s Top 10 Male Scents!

(Runners up were Davidoff's Cool Water, Chanel Allure and Dior Homme)

REVIEW: Aphrodite - Kylie

"Kylie Lite: the new low-cal Kylie that you feel a bit healthier for eating but wasn't really what you wanted"

Wow wow wow, Kylie’s 11th studio album kissed shelves across the UK today, but if you were expecting to be wowed by the new sound then disappointment awaits you. With the worst front cover in three albums, Kylie beckons her hands up attempting the command of a Greek goddess but with the conviction of a Saturday, the final result looking more like an unused snap from a Monsoon catalogue.

Whereas 2007’s album X offered enough pop spunk to take charge of a party playlist, Aphrodite is more of a discharge album, one to play off the portable stereo as you potter about the garden collecting empty Pimms beakers.

As always, there is a staff of writers, producers and others who push random buttons in poolside recording studios to ensure a watertight production. This time the K team includes Jim Eliot, Andy Chatterley, Dave Emery, Calvin Harris, Nerina ‘Everybody’s Gone To War’ Pallot and of course Stuart ‘Name Your’ Price.

Considering aspects of X were quite frankly visionary, with tracks like
'Heartbeat Rock' and 'The One' never truly released as singles despite their audio splendour, it is saddening to listen to Aphrodite. This is watered-down Kylie, treading-water Kylie, can’t get you out of bed Kylie. And like trying to remember a dream upon waking, Aphrodite has potential but digs up too many memories and soft splashes of other artists for comfort. There are notes of Madonna, Scissor Sisters, Moby, No Doubt, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton and Jamiroquai, so that the inconvenienced listener is forever trying to place their finger instead of tapping it.

Kitty Empire asked the timely question “will it Gaga?” in her Guardian review. Of course Kylie doesn’t have to Gaga. Everything she does looks and sounds effortless, she is the polar opposite to the machinations of Gaga’s abrasive pop coup. In G-A-Y crowds may stop dancing to watch 'Telephone' but Kylie will always be their first love.

Summery and mellow, Kylie gives us twelve soft dance tracks that play it very safe, we’re talking three condoms and a coil safe. With its ‘On A Night Like This’ auto-retro sound, some bloggers have called Aphrodite a reversion to Light Years, but really it’s more Kylie Lite: the new low-cal Kylie that you feel a bit healthier for eating but wasn’t really what you wanted.

Tracks to download: Aphrodite, Better Than Today, Too Much,

Read Kitty Empire’s review here