Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Miss Whiplash and Mr Tupperware

Queer Up North is an annual 3-week festival of films, theatre, comedy, visual arts and more, which takes place in Manchester's Gay Village. This year's festival ends today with a traditional Village Fete, complete with teas and cakes, bouncy castle, Test Your Strength, a coconut shy, a bake-off and, for one day only in the North West, yours truly running a Tupperware party.

I wouldn't normally go so far to run a party, or I would refer it on to my colleague Helen who is manager for the North West, but given the similarity to the Homo Homemakers event last autumn in London, and the fact that I haven't visited Manchester for years, I decide to go. The Festival has zero hospitality budget, and I am skint, so I travel up on the National Express coach (at £22 return, it's a quarter of the train fare) and stay in a backpackers' hostel (£18 a night). How the mighty have fallen.

It is raining and cold as mid-morning I haul the ailing trolley bag across the Canal Street cobbles into Sackville Gardens. The festival team are optimistically hanging bunting. They are also freaking out because the generator for the bouncy castle hasn't shown up -- it never does. With 2 full hours before the public can come in, I leave my bag with the team and slope off to Costa Coffee with my copy of The Observer. I am thrilled to see from the Observer Food Monthly that Hakkasan, the Chinese restaurant where I took my dear friend Bo for lunch yesterday before he went home to Korea for two years, has been named best one in the country.

The rain does ease off, and eventually stops, but there is still a fair wind, and back at Sackville Gardens I lash my tablecloth and banner to the trestle with strong tape and string before arranging my display. I snag a spot under biggest tree, in case the rain starts again, but I come to regret this choice of location when my display is regualrly augmented by bird droppings throughout the afternoon. One gets me square in the face, and another splatters on the poor Cheese Smart. We will both need a good soak when I get home.

Earlier in the Festival, a representative of Culture for Tolerance, the gay festival in Krakow, spoke about the awful hard time the gay community has been having in that city. As hosts of my Tupperware party, the Queer Up North organisers are donating their rewards to Culture for Tolerance. Sales are slow though, and sadly I can only make a £10 donation.

For the bake-off, two of Manchester's premier drag queens Bobbie Dazzler and Miss Whiplash dress down in twinset and pearls to judge the cakes (see main photo). My Tupperchef chef's knife is called on to slice the cakes, although I had earlier been told to keep it hidden in my bag, since it would be considered a weapon, and could get the event closed down. Bobbie Dazzler has her eye on my Salad Spinner too, which she says would be perfect for rinsing out her tights. Later in the evening, I run into the ladies again, now in post outside one of the Canal Street bars, and looking a lot saucier than earlier. "Ooh, it's the Tupperware Man!", Miss Whiplash coos after me.

Back home in London, my trolley bag has really had it. One wheel is twisted round completely, so I am practically pulling the bag along the ground like a dead weight. I toss it into the big bin and order another.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Clapped out

This week I turn 43. But it's not me that's clapped out -- how very dare you? -- it's my poor Tupperware standard issue trolleybag. I think it's designed to be wheeled from the car to the front door, but mine takes a pounding as I haul it onto buses, off trains, across cobbles and kerbs and through potholes. My first one lasted six months, and my second one, as you can see above, is not in great shape and will need to be retired before long. I, on the other hand, am still boyish.

Because Tupperware is only a couple of years into re-building its sales force in the UK, there are still parts of the country without a local consultant. While this is the case, I am happy to take occasional orders by post, email or phone from far-flung customers who need their Tupperware, but who don't have anyone local to buy it from. Normally, this involves parcelling it up and sending it by post. But this week I get to deliver in person. The order came from Alison, who lives in the far north of Scotland, but is to be delivered to her son Tony, who is in London. She has been visiting Tony recently, and has decided that he needs Tupperware in his life, namely a CheeseSmart and Cheese Knife.

So I call in to son Tony's Soho Square office one morning this week to deliver. The receptionist calls him to the front desk, pronouncing "Tupperware" in a very odd way, like a female Russian spy in a film. Tony appears and I explain who I am, and to his bemusement I demonstrate his Cheese Smart right there in reception. Tony explains that his mum had been a bit horrified by his slovenly cheese storage, hence the gifts. The receptionist smirks throughout, and as lift doors close on me I hear Tony say "Don't tell anyone about this, OK?"

It's the season of summer fetes and fairs. Sadly I can't make it to my local one this year, the Merrick Square Summer Fete, because it is on the same day as the Walk for Life (please sponsor me). But the lovely Rachel, who I worked with on the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, has invited me to run a stall at the fair she is co-organising in Butterfield Green, Stoke Newington, a trendy middle-class part of North London.

It's a really lovely day, perfect weather to be outside all afternoon. I am a bit of a Nicole Kidman when it comes to exposing myself to direct sunlight, so I am pleased to snag a trestle table under the trees, with a panoramic view of the event. It's a very North London take on a summer fete: there are organic freebies, a stall with delicious Thai food, and a tug of war between the police, fire service and estate agents (with London house prices, they are practically an emergency service). I love the dog fashion show -- and only in Stoke Newington would the winning dog be dressed as Jean-Paul Gaultier. I could kick myself for not getting a photo taken with the Japanese swordsmen -- with their long ninja-style aprons, they were dressed exactly like me. But while they are wielding yard-long ceremonial swords, I have a Happy Chopper.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Happy birthday, unhappy German

This week Pauline invites me to run a lunchtime Tupperware stall at the Orpington offices of Southern Gas Networks. It's a bit of a shlep, but direct on the train from London Victoria, and I set up shop in their conference room. I commandeer a handy flip-chart to create this rather rinky-dink sign to bring the punters in. People drift in during their lunch hour, and I take enough orders to generate some decent rewards for Pauline.

I am always interested in what people use Tupperware products for, so I am intrigued when an email arrives this week from Sandra, a professional musician. She is trying to track down some small Tupperware containers. "They are absolutely perfect for soaking oboe or bassoon reeds. My mother bought me 2 dozen about 20 years ago, but over the years i've managed to leave them in nearly every concert hall in the North West and I am down to my last 2!" Tupperware Man has come to the rescue, and although the pots Sandra needs are not in the current catalogue, I have managed to source some for her.

On Sunday, there is a rare home party that I can walk to. Unfortunately it is pouring with rain, and my trolley bag has developed a dodgy wheel, so I have to get the bus anyway. Down the road in Bermondsey, Adam has invited me to run a party as a surprise birthday treat for his partner Chris, who is an avid baker and was thrilled to discover there is a Tupperware consultant in the heighbourhood. Chris is a serious baker. On the table there were home-made Oreo cookies. And he is a great sport when I make him act as my assistant, complete with garish pink patterned apron.

Adam and Chris's airy and immaculate flat is a great setting for a party, and their guests a charming bunch, who buy plenty of Tupperware. I agree to hold the party order open for a week, as they have a few friends who can't attend today, but who would like to order. The boys will end up with a nice set of rewards I think.

I am still doing my best to infiltrate ex-pat communities in London, and have been working on the Germans who are huge fans of Tupperware. I sent emails over the Bank Holiday weekend to several German churches in the region, offering to run a Tupperware party for them, or to hire a stall at any events they are running this summer. One reply arrives this week. It reads in full: "Hallo Andrew! We are not interested."