Sunday, February 04, 2018

Ukraine Trio

As the 2018 travel season kicks in, I thought I would share a few snaps from three of the more interesting trips from my nesting period.  First up of these, is Ukraine.  

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When Ukraine won Eurovision
​ 2016​
, I asked around who might be keen to join me to see the 
​2017 ​
event in Kiev.  
​Not ​u
nexpectedly, one proud Dutch hand was raised, and Lottie, Sushil and I were off. 

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Central Kiev was much lovelier and European than any of us expected of a post-WWII Soviet capital.

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Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), where the Orange Revolution kicked off in 2004.

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A sign next to the Maidan.  This 
well with Eurovision's Ukrainian hosts asking people to come see their country as it 
s a modern, open and tolerant European nation.  We were all quite charmed with it, and I would encourage everyone to go.  Most Ukrainians are Westward-looking, and deserve (and need) our support.

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The Motherland Monument overlooks the city.

​Around 90 minutes outside of Kiev lie
 Chernobyl, and the nearby city of ​
​, where the ​plant workers lived.  This was the highlight of the trip for me - ever since I'd learned that the 
​radioactivity had 
died down enough to visit, I've wanted to see this Soviet ghost city.

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Welcome to Pripyat!

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Pripyat's main street now, with a photo of it before.

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Central Pripyat

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The iconic May Day  in Pripyat.  This wasn't supposed to open unti
 01 May, but the 
 opened it the day after the Chernobyl explosion to calm the town's residents and show that everything was OK.  

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Within two days of the park's early opening, the entire city was exacuated "temporarily".  No one ever moved back.

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 bumper cars.

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in the woods.

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​As we had a private guide, rather than a group tour, he took us up an 
tower block (against regulations) to see the views.​

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On the ground, it's difficult to tell how large Pripyat was, as it's overgrown with trees.  From the roof, you can see it was a medium-sized city; tower blocks stretched out a good distance in each direction from our vantage.

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​Chernobyl from Pripyat - shows how close the city was to the plant.  The giant domed building is the ​new sarcophagus covering reactor 4.  Immediately after the explosion, one was put up, by selfless men and women who knew they would die from the exposure.  However, that was at risk of collapse, and this internationally-funded and -designed sarcophagus covered the original one and the reactor debris therein.

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Sushil atop Pripyat.

On our last day, we went to 
​, another planned city, similar to Pripyat, but very much still alive.  We wanted to see what Pripyat might be like now, had the Chernobyl explosion never happened.​  Ukrainka is much smaller than Pripyat, but the look and feel of the two cities are remarkably similar.

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​Ukrainka's main square.​
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Memorial in front of blocks of flats.

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Mostly, we just hung out in local pubs, watching the city go about its business outside, and eventually 
 these two, who attempted to speak with us through drunken slurs (while falling off their seats), and tried desperately to buy us several rounds of vodka shots.

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Fortunately, our waiter, 
​, spoke very good English​ and agreed with us that he would bring us shot glasses full of water.  
It was an awesome 
​way to end our time in Ukraine.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

[The Life of Shaun #554] The Wisdom of Aunt Peggi

Marco and I watched British Workers Wanted this afternoon, a documentary which "follows two glamorous Leave-voting women who are trying to attract Brits to join their recruitment agency as many of their Eastern European workers choose to leave Brexit Britain".  Predictably, it was difficult to find many Britons who were willing to work for £7.50/hour.  In the final scenes of the film, they try to recruit 40 people to work at an annual local fête, requiring a 5:00am start; only one of the 40 they manage to hire is British.  Pandering and one-sided, yes, but it was still exasperating to see two ladies whose very business is built on immigrant labour voting to leave the EU.  If these two are Leavers, what hope is there for the rest of middle England*?

Unrelated, my friend Lloyd recently posted this question on FaceBook:

What would you say to someone who asks what is unmissable in #London?

My Aunt Peggi replied with the following, which brought a smile to my face:

Peggi Schuh
Peggi Schuh Every neighborhood and see all the different lifestyles that work so well in one major city. Amazing!

Sometimes it's good to be reminded about what an amazing city London is
.  When you live here, you begin to take some things for granted, as if it's this way everywhere.  It's not.  And despite the 
economic and character damage
​ ​
​, I have faith that London will not quickly lose its global worldview.  At least it better not - Dublin's gotten too expensive!


The answer, apparently, is some; a
t the end of the programme, one of the two had changed her mind about Brexit and would now vote to remain.

Shaun H. Coley ~ Shadwell ~ Tower Hamlets ~ London E1 ~ UK ~

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

[The Life of Shaun #553] Nesting

It's been quite a while since I've written anything.  I'm not sure why.  I've had some pretty interesting trips: Kiev/Chernobyl, Iceland, Paris with the family, and the (nearly) annual grand tour with Russ.  Day-to-day life is pleasantly pleasant, but since I last wrote, Sushil and I have passed both two years of marriage and two years of cohabitation, Lisa has moved to London, and Marco has moved back in, so there's definitely been news on the homefront.  I've just not felt emotive about any of it.

When I look back at the last updates I sent out, I see a lot of loss there, so maybe that's still working its way through.  I've also been consciously aware of the relentless march through middle age, too many years into it now to pretend it's anything but.

I also feel a sense of settledness I've never had before.  I am genuinely happily married and content in my job.  I still look at flats in Clerkenwell on Zoopla, and occasionally daydream about moving to my expanding list of Brexit escape options, but in reality, I have no desire to leave my circles or my city.  When so much of life has been about figuring out one side or another, what do you do once you've managed the urban trifecta?

So I don't know what's next.  Or more accurately, I don't know what to work towards next.  It seems all this settledness has left me feeling a bit...unsettled.  If I were straight, this might be about the time in life when I started taking an interest in fast, expensive cars.  I am quite content with my Oystercard though, so my response has been to nest, to keep things simple, and stay close to (often literally in) home.

As with everything, I know this too shall pass - I just don't know if it will be imperceptibly or with a bang.  Until then, anyone up for Netflix and Deliveroo?


Shaun H. Coley ~ Shadwell ~ Tower Hamlets ~ London E1 ~ UK ~

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

[The Life of Shaun #552] Updates

I just got off of Skype with Pops - he is doing well (again).  Unfortunately, he was rushed by ambulance back to the hospital a bit under two weeks after his bypass, as he was having trouble breathing.  After several tests and scans, they confirmed that he had fluid build-up around the heart and lungs, and the pressure was affecting his airflow.  Two Mondays ago, they operated again to drain the fluid, and he stayed in the hospital another week.  All's going well now, and he's being very well looked after at home by my Aunt Peggi and Uncle Rudy, and my cousin Tracy is popping in from time to time to be our surrogate.

New York was wonderful and heartbreaking.  David Vansuch hosted a fantastic memorial, full of love for David Bell.  I was so happy I was able to be there for it, and to be near the dear friends we had in common, with other people who knew and understood him.  As my friend Stepfeven said, "Really lovely.  Like an Irish wake.  I was hungover til 5 the next day."  That is exactly the kind of send-off David would want.

It's been a tough several weeks, Mama Berry, Pops, David Bell - far too much sadness and worry in my feed.  But I never went a second without the support of friends and family, and I am very lucky for that.

I'm glad to be back home in London, back in the routine, and hopefully staying put awhile - well, by my standards, anyway.


Shaun H. Coley ~ Shadwell ~ Tower Hamlets ~ London E1 ~ UK ~

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

[The Life of Shaun #550] David Bell Took Manhattan

I can remember the exact moment I realised I wasn't leaving New York.  I was sitting on David Bell's bed with him up in Jersey City Heights, Bacardi and Cokes in hands, watching something on TV.  Jessica Calvello was standing at the entrance to the room and had made some crass joke, and we were just laughing.  Up until then, my plan had been to move back to San Francisco after I got my BSc from Stevens, but at that moment I knew that was it, I wasn't going back.  New York was my home.

David10567 and I met in the AOL chatroom NYCm4m.  He was getting ready to make the move from Houston, TX, and chatted me up to get hints and tips about life in the Big Apple.  At the end of the conversation, he asked if he could add me to his list, David Bell Takes Manhattan, and we agreed to meet up once he got into town.  We finally met in person when I picked him up in front of Big Cup and we headed over to meet Todd Martin at Beige, where that night we met a huge cast of characters, from Drunk Scott to Nicholas Syphilis, many of who remained in my social circles for the rest of my New York life.

For the next years, David and I were inseparable; kindred spirits who were overjoyed to have found each other.  We had both fled stifling suburbia in the American West to find that something we knew was out there, and we searched for and found it together.  We spilled cosmos across the island of Manhattan, from Barracuda in Chelsea, to the Mineshaft in the Meat Packing District, to the Cock in the East Village.  We made a legend out of John Street (Joe Birdsong!  Sparkplugboi!), nary a $2 beer night passed at Phoenix without our attendance, and we knew all too well what sunrise looked like from 18th and 10th.  David Bell did his best to culture me, taking me to shows, sometimes overshooting, but mostly hitting it just right with Kiki & Herb, Joe's Pub and Hedwig.  I made him travel a bit, and brought him to the Black Party.  We lived and breathed New York; it was everything to us.  But just as often as our big nights out, we spent nights in, on his bed, drinking, talking, watching TV, gossiping about boys, and feeling free.

A few years ago, David fell off the proverbial cliff, having taken a bit too much advantage of the loose bar management at West Bank Cafe.  For a while he held it together enough to stay in New York, but eventually the realities of his declining functionality forced him back to Houston at a time when his mother, sweet, sweet Nancy, needed him just as much as he needed the pause button.  For two years, he doted on his mother and took care of the closeted, dying grandfather next door, before finally returning to New York City a year or so ago.  Though David Bell made it back to New York, he never really made it back.  He was as clever and witty as ever, but that spark was gone.  All those that were close to him wanted desperately for him to get up that cliff back to us, but it was just too steep.  Every time we felt like his hand was in reach, he slipped back down a little bit.

David Bell's roommate found him dead in his bed on Sunday.  The cause of death is unknown, but is also inconsequential.  He is gone, and everything else that he might have brought to the world has gone with him.  David was an acerbic, sharp comedic playwright - but that was an easy win for him, laughs came readily.  On some of our nights in, David would tell me about his weightier life experiences, and how he wanted to translate those to the stage once he had become experienced enough to write the script, and well-known enough to take the risk.  David Bell could have been a few successes away from writing the next great American play, but now that can never be.

I've said many times that my time in New York made me the person I am.  But really, just as much as the city, my friendship with David Bell made me the person I am.  I've been fortunate to have several solid, lasting, true friendships, but I met David Bell at a time and place in my life when I was screaming out for a friend like him.  He not only accepted and supported me, but encouraged, embraced and loved everything about me, right down to the ridiculous.  I never fully accepted and loved myself until I had him by my side, not just letting me be me, but celebrating it, just as I celebrated everything about him.

So with David Bell's death, I feel like I am losing him a second time.  We both knew we were never going to go back to that time, those amazing first New York years.  But as long as he was around, there was someone who understood what those years were and what they meant.  I absolutely cannot imagine my life without David Bell; he changed me.  And it really sucks he didn't go out with the standing ovation he deserved.

David Bell!  You need a drink!

With a determined chin,

No, thank you, Uncle David.  Thank you.

Though most of his journal has probably been lost forever, I have these two entries saved from earlier shares.  So for one final encore, I give you David Bell Takes Manhattan:

This is a series of diary entries chronicling my departure from my home of 26 years to New York City. Any questions, comments, propositions (sexual or otherwise) or if you would like to be added to the journal mailing list, please send me an email.

Dec 10, 2001

If in the course of this journal entry I can impress upon you only one tidbit of advice, please let it be the following: When your flight time is equal to or more than three hours, chasing a Xanax with a cocktail will bring you peace, sweet peace. "I suppose it's the heavy turbulence that's making that baby shriek directly behind me...and yet...I don't care....i don't care..."

It took me twenty-eight years to get to San Francisco. As a child, my parents dragged me all over Ohio, Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky and I know the layout of Oklahoma a little more than I'd care to. The Bell family singers never really ventured to any of those places that might have a gay population large enough to organize a parade. We were always visiting relatives which meant that on a Saturday night in say, Grove, Oklahoma, the most happening scene in town was the kegger in the parking lot of the local Walmart. I suppose I could feel cheated by this but, c'mon, what gay boy wants to be tethered to his mother the first time he alights the corner of Market and Castro anyway?

Instead and fortunately, I was tethered to my best friend Shaun, who was spending the last of his vacation days like a hypoglycemic four year old at a gumball machine (I tell him that all he needs to do is give up his medical insurance, dental plan, 401K, stable salary, possibilities for career advancement, and become a waiter like me and then he can take a vacation whenever he wants, but he just won't listen.). Shaun used to live in San Francisco, and so guilt by association dictated that I was officially not a tourist. He did grudgingly swing me by the big red bridge and the wharf, but our goal was to log as many hours inside of a bar as California state law would allow. After a couple of days we had the routine down pat: wake up at noon, watch a movie (Dammit Speilberg!! How could you let Christopher Columbus ruin Harry Potter?), eat for cheap, tour at least 3 bars, then being the utter failure that I am, I would crash and take a taxi home, fall asleep, and be jarred awake at 5AM by Shaun wanting me to buzz him in. I was however sober long enough to make a few observations about the city along the way. And since the title of this epic does include the word "Manhattan"......

David Bell Notes Eleven Glaring Differences Between San Francisco and New York City.


David Bell

1. The architecture, basic layout and general cleanliness of San Francisco makes New York City look like a landfill in Bangladesh.

2. In San Francisco, the taxi drivers speak English. In many cases, it is their first language.

3. Non-tipped employees are nicer in San Francisco. A man at Blockbuster Video went out of his way to help us find a video. I was beside myself.

4. There are more homeless people in San Francisco, and more gay people in New York. Believe it or not, that's just the way it is.

5. The good citizens of San Francisco are perhaps just a little too creative when it comes to the styling of one's own facial hair.

6. Unlike NYC where even rainbow flags are passe, in San Francisco even the hanky code is still alive and kicking.

7. A goddamned 2 liter of Coca-Cola was $2.50 in San Francisco!! (Meaning it's too expensive. I'm not so jaded by New York's high cost of living that I don't know when I'm being ripped off!)

8. San Francisco's little theater scene is so predominantly gay that in an ad for a new romantic play they specifically listed that it was about a "heterosexual relationship".

9. Not once did I see anyone rushing to get anywhere.

10. You cannot smoke in bars in California. I did not realize this until I came home at 2AM and noticed that I did not smell like my grandfather.

11. The homes and clothing in San Francisco are very colorful, unlike here in NYC where we have 1700 words for the color "gray".

San Francisco is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I got the sense that everyone who lived there actively took part in keeping it that way by doing everything from enacting legislation to cleaning up after their dog. I can't say for sure why this is, perhaps the large population of artists and liberals are just inherently more aesthetic, or perhaps it's because once a century San Francisco is practically destroyed and they get a new chance to rebuild. My theory is that in San Francisco it is a lot easier to notice a really pretty building or a really ugly one. At least twice a day a Franciscan find himself at the top of a hill and he's able to look out and see a large portion of his city. I don't think anyone anywhere would ever want to waste a view.

Loved the visit. Glad to be back amongst the squalor. Take Xanax. Peace out.

With a determined chin,
David Bell


May 31st, 2002



David Bell


The notoriously jaded boy-oracle known as his best friend Shaun Coley


For obvious reasons this list will be homocentric; however, heterosexuals are more than welcome to relate to any item that does not collide with their breedful agendas


--If you are not willing to perform fellatio on the first date then you either need to find a more attractive suitor or reexamine your boundaries.

--Anyone who lives below 59th street decides who travels where.  Above 59th you do have some leverage if your suitor lives in an outer borough, for outer-borough dwellers have no choice at all.  However, he who travels gets Chinese delivery paid for them.

--It's okay to point out another person's ass while you're on a date…We are all people watchers.  That's why we moved here.

--If a suitor gets uncomfortable when you ask him how much he pays in rent, that means one of three things: he just moved to NYC and doesn't understand that this is an obligatory question, he still has shame issues about his exorbitant realtor fee, or he lives with his parents on Long Island.

--The dating scene in NYC is a tangled tangled web.  More often than not you will discover that you or your date have slept with the same person.  No need to be embarrassed.  Kiss and tell.  It will make for delightful dinner conversation.

--Do not bother asking a New Yorker out on a Sunday night.  That are at home with their friends watching Sex And The City and/or Six Feet Under and/or The Sopranos.

--Don't lend your porn out and expect to get it back in a timely manner.

--It is best to maintain suitors in each neighborhood so that if your date doesn't work out, you only have to walk a few blocks to get what you're looking for.

--Anyone who calls you the next day is a stalker.

--NYC is a melting pot of venereal disease.  Those with who get off on risk can get their fill.

--There are over 20 million people in NYC metro.  If you have a toe-sucking-clown-sushi fetish then there is a club for you.  There is someone for everyone.  Bitching about being alone is simply tiresome.

--New Yorkers crave stress-free relationships.  They get enough drama from their careers, roommates, landlords, subways, terrorists, etc…

--NYC attracts addicts.  If moderation is what you truly seek then you belong west of the Hudson.


To all of you out-of-towners, this list may come off as self-important, exclusive, snotty, and just plain grandiose.  This is intentional.  Let's not forget who invented the velvet rope .



--You need a face pic for them to come to your place.  You need at least 2 face pics to go to theirs.  If two trains are involved, you need headshots, body shots and several cock shots.

…Furthermore, when you are choosing which self-pic to scan, remember: NO sunglasses, NO hats, and if you're posing in front of the Statue Of Liberty, we should not be able to see the entire monument in the shot.

--"VGL" doesn't necessarily mean you're gonna end up with someone "Very Good Looking"… but it does mean that you're gonna end up with someone very cocky…which can be just as fun.


--Even the most pessimistic pessimist is an optimist when it comes to imagining what his latest Internet crush is like in person.  All you have to go on is a few JPGS and a hundred or so sentences of electronic banter.  Do NOT emotionally invest in someone you have not yet experienced in the third dimension.


--Manhattan is a model magnet.  Seasoned New Yorkers have learned that pretty doesn't necessarily mean sexy.

--Attitude is as recklessly intolerable as it is recklessly abundant.

--Never date a Caucasian with dreadlocks.  You're just asking for trouble.

--For The Theatre Junkies:  First date: De La Guarda.  Birthday: Chicago .  Passing The Co-op Board: The Producers.  Breakup: Les Miserables.

--Fuck actors.  Do NOT date actors.  Fuck them…cuz there ain't no more show after the curtain goes down at the end of the night.

--If you want a relationship to last, you should make sure it's difficult to see eachother.  Interborough trysts will maintain energy for a while, but it's best to put a few states in between if you want it to last.  Try Philly.  Your friends will disown you but the provincial will worship the subway platform you trod upon.

--There is a significant difference between East Village Punk and East Village Hippie.  The East Village Punk will throw you on the bed, spit in your face and forget your name.  The East Village Hippie will claim to have a degree in shiatzu and want to read your astrological chart.  Choose the punk every time.

--Once you have found your foreverlover, retaining your one bedroom Chelsea co-op is simply obnoxious.  Find a house with a yard on Staten Island and sublet your joyboy-flat to someone who will put it to good use (like us!)

--Fleet week only comes once a year.  Carpe Testes.

With determined chins,

David Bell and Shaun Coley

Shaun H. Coley ~ Shadwell ~ Tower Hamlets ~ London E1 ~ UK ~

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