The Mercurial Freddie


I wrote this almost exactly a year ago, and it went the way of all my posts for that period.  That said, this week saw the announcement that the Royal Mail would be launching a series of stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of Queen.  It seemed fitting that this is the post I should “reconstitute” and tidy up as part of that ongoing process of revising and “logging” them here.

I am an unashamed fan.  Their music is intertwined in the soundtrack of my life, going back to 1976 when I began to be enamoured with pop.  Their music is fascinating on a range of levels, from the music iteslf, to the lyrics.  Bohemian Rhapsody is open to so much interpretation and in the days when lyrics were included with the record (yes, we had the record), one could learn the the correct ones off by heart.  I remember looking up “Bismillah”, “Scaramouche” and “Beelzebub”.  I hear that song, and others, and the words just come out of my mouth.  Involuntarily.

One of very few regrets

Freddie Mercury always seemed a larger than life character and that he was.  In October 1984, the year I turned 21, Queen came to South Africa to play at Sun City and I didn’t go.  I regret little in my life, but not having made more of an effort to take the trip, is one of them.  That said, perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing – Freddie had issues with his voice and a couple of concerts were cancelled; with my luck, that would have been “my” night.  It was the most controversial part of that world tour because the Equity ban precluded British artists from performing in South Africa.  Because of Apartheid.  However, Sun City was located in the then “independent” state of Bophutatswana and which was “Apartheid-free”.

When I heard about Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, I was nervous about seeing it.  Who could be Freddie?  Nobody, I thought.  Then the reviews emerged – mixed.  And then Rami Malek, contrary to critics’ expectations, won the Oscar.  My interest was piqued and after hearing from contemporaries that they loved it, I wanted to see it.  Living where we do, and not getting to the big city the cinema very often, I was delighted when our local thespian laid his hands on a newly released copy of the Blu Ray and showed it at his theatre.

With reservations and with great anticipation, I went to see the film.  It is not the best film ever made – by a long shot.  Malek is wooden and tries too hard to be Freddie.  The actors playing Roger Taylor (and I loved his solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking) and John Deacon were similarly wooden.  “Brian May” was probably the most comfortable in his character.  Despite all this –

I loved every minute.

I said so in a Facebook post which unleashed denigrating comments from two university contempories which, I think, reflects the extent to which Freddie Mercury was misunderstood.  This is the comment that most got me, and on which I have been reflecting ever since:

[the film]…made out that Freddy was a (sic) AIDS sufferer supporter…which is complete bullshit. If you read the auto biography Freddy was promiscuous almost beyond belief…he literally had a queue of young men outside his hotel room door who came in one-by-one to provide Freddy with an ‘all night service’. And then when he got Aids, (how surprising), he hid it as long as he possibly could and did nothing to remove its stigma or do anything for other sufferers. Freddy was a million miles away from being the saint they paint him as in the movie.

My response then:

It was honest without being as brutal as it could have been. Call me old and soft, but I appreciated that.

I went to see the film a second time and enjoyed it as much.  It also made me reflect even more on the extent to which Freddie has been villified in some quarters.  Largely unfairly, I believe:

Some context:

Growing up in South Africa meant that I grew up in a very conservative environment, in a country governed by Calvanistic Christian government:  Apartheid meant that races could not mix.  People of different races could not live next door to each other;  mixed marriages (sex across the “colour bar”) were (was) prohibited.  By law.  There was a peice of legislation:  The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act.  Similarly, sexual relations between people of the same sex was illegal.  Doors were broken down, people hauled out of beds and imprisoned.  Members of the armed forces suspected of being gay, were subjected to “corrective treatment”.  That is the society in which I grew up, as did the person who made that comment.  Homosexuality was also illegal in the UK when Freddie was a young adult; only in 1967 was it decriminalised for males over the age of 21.


This means that we, like Freddie and his contemporaries, grew up in a homophobic world before AIDS and HIV:  it reared its head as a public health issue (and with terror tactics) in what would have been our last year or two of university.  It was highly stigmatised:  it was a gay disease;  it was also a disease of promiscuity.  It was, and for some still is, the equivalent of Biblical leprosy.  Notwithstanding the fact that there is now enough reliable information in the public domain which gives a lie to all of that.


During 1989, and when it was gay men who were most concerned about becoming infected, I had the mixed blessing of having a gay friend who discovered that his new partner, with whom he had hoped to have a permanent relationship, was HIV positive.  The partner had not disclosed and they’d been having unprotected sex.  My friend  and I went to see the film Longtime Companion, a classic about a community of friends confronting the ravages of AIDS. My friend had broken up with his earstwhile partner but was waiting for the outcome of the first of several tests necessary to find out his status.  It was still in the window period and then there would be the wait for a further six months.  The results are not important.  What is important is that my friend is one of the least promiscuous people I have ever known.  He knew, and would talk about Fire Island and the gay lifestyle;  he had lived in, and returned to Florida.  I have forgotten none of his agony, anger nor relief.

That agony can only be second to the agony of someone grappling with coming out and which includes having to acknowledge to themselves and to a still hostile society, their sexual preference and its implications.  I have had the privilege of walking alongside two dear friends as they have taken this step.  It’s neither a choice, and nor does coming out make life easier.  It just makes life different and choices different.  Nor, in 2020, does it mean that the world is accepting and not homophobic.

Farrokh Bubara

Freddie Mercury, I believe, was very much a product, and a victim of, his time.  Although he died at 45, we should remember that this year, he’d have turned 74.  He was nearly 20 years my senior.  Effectively a different generation.  That bears thinking about, as does his early and young life.

You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny

Although he was born in Zanzibar, his father was employed by the British Colonial Service (as, incidentally, was mine) which sent him there from his native India (the family were Parsis from the Gujarati region, and were Zoarastrians).  The young Freddie was sent back to India to an English “public school-like” boarding establishment.  What parent, today, relishes sending their children to boarding school?  Less so now that the conduct of certain school masters and initiation practices  are increasingly being publicly acknowledged as “established” phenomena.  A few years later, in 1964 and when Freddie was just 18, the Zanzibar revolution, led by Muslims, forced the family to flee.  Nowhere else to go, they ended up in London where he clearly didn’t fit in. To add insult to injury, it was assumed he was from Pakistan, a country run by Muslims, the very people that hounded the family from Zanzibar – with nothing. Source

This would have been tough for any adolescent, especially for someone sensitive, with enormous talent and unconventional looks; I can only imagine how he felt about himself.  I have an inkling:  I had my own journey having to have my teeth “fixed”.  My mother constantly told me that I couldn’t have the most fashionable hair-do of the moment because of “your ears and your teeth.  Then there were all the other “you’re-ugly-and-your-mother-dresses-you-funny” experiences of my childhood and adolescence in boarding school,

About his being gay, one of Freddie’s biographers says:

The world has changed so much. He was a arecording artist in the ’70s and ’80s, two decades when the level of homophobia is difficult for anyone born after 1980 to fully comprehend. In particular, Britain and the USA were scary places for gay people, and the onset of AIDS gave license to the religious fulminators and right-wing zealots.

Living up to his rock star status

Hiding his HIV status and developing a larger than life persona that sheltered the deeper, sensitive, private human being must have been Freddie’s survival strategy.  The debauchery, which was touched upon in the film was a combination of what was expected of a rock star, the machinations of another lost soul who had found his meal ticket (or so he thought), as well as Freddie’s own proclivities and insecurities.

Freddie was no saint, that much is clear.  Perhaps his feet of clay did not feature in the film as much as his detractors might have liked.

With hindsight, two songs strike me as particularly poignant.  Was this, for most of his life, Freddie’s quest?

This one, hated by an old boyfriend of mine, is as relevant today as it was in 1984.

Lastly, this happens to be one of my absolute favourite Queen songs, not often played, which is my only reason for including it.

Post Script:

June is Pride month…
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.

Games: to play or not to play

I gather that thanks to the international and enforced stay-at-home, there’s been a whole lot more game-playing going on.  Of one sort or another.  Or is there?  I have, before, nailed my colours to the mast about board games. The same applies to video games.  I don’t get them.  Well that’s not strictly true.  I do.  Thereby hangs a tale.  Of course.

Once upon a time…

A gazillion years ago, and in a past life, I lived with a computer geek.  He taught IT at the local school.  At the time, South Africa was still subject to severe economic sanctions.  No Apple products.  No graphic user interfaces (GUIs).  The mouse was a very recent addition to the then limited computer peripherals.

Even further back in time

Let me digress

When I was studying for my teachers’ diploma, some nine years earlier, Rhodes University was (probably still is), a world leader in computer science and was instrumental in bringing the internet to South Africa.

Part of my late mother’s job at the university involved the purchase of computers – from the hardware for mainframes to early Apples – in the 1970’s.  Then, in the 1980’s sanctions happened and every Apple-branded piece of hardware became obsolete:  overnight.

The university’s main building. My mother’s office was behind one of the ground floor windows – bottom right. I took this photo on a visit there, in 2010.

While all this serious stuff was going on, Pacman arrived.  As far as I know, there was only one “arcade” in Grahamstown where one could play the game:  at the entrance to Kaif (i.e. the café) where we would congregate for coffee, a natter and just generally hang out.



Pacman was rarely quiet.  I only ever recall men directing his gobbling.  Including after I started work in Johannesburg.  A colleague and I used to catch the same bus after work and each day we’d frequent the same corner shop.  I’d be getting something that needed a fridge (which I didn’t have – another story for another time);  he would buy the paper.  Not to read, but rather for change to feed Pacman.  A not negotiable task before heading home to his partner and infant daughter.

Back at Rhodes

My education course included an introduction to computers and their role in education.  And, while I’m digressing, those were the early days of the debate about the role of information technology in schools and learning, generally.  Most feared that computers would usurp human teachers.  That was thirty-five years ago.  Those fears – in some quarters – remain.  Unfounded, in my opinion.  Nothing about the move to online education has detracted from the fact that the most successful education and learning remain mediated by humans.

Dad, Mum and I at my 1985 graduation.

Anyhow, one of our assignments included designing a computer-based activity or lesson:  using Apple Pilot.  I struggled.  My really sophisticated lesson was a pathetic attempt at computerising the word game, Hangman.

The computer geek with whom I later lived, developed a Geography lesson that illustrated adiabatic lapse rates.  An arts major (male) friend developed a murder mystery in a ghost house with – for the time, and for a novice – the most amazing, ghostly green and black graphics.

Back to the Future (as it were)

Fast forward nine or so years to when I was the proud owner of an ICL Elf, and the height of economic sanctions.  Although Nelson Mandela had been released, the country had not been released of sanctions.  One day, the computer geek came home with a pirate copy of a very early PC, DOS version of SimCity.  He loaded it on to his PC, and introduced the game and I.  One game and the urban geographer in me was hooked.  It had to be loaded on to the Elf.  The game was as fascinating as it was addictive.


Alas, or fortunately, the game went the way of the Elf, and probably a good thing, too.  That said, in doing my homework for this post, I discover that one can still download it.  I desisted.

So, the closest I get to video games, now, is one or other game of Solitaire that comes, free, with Windows.

Oh, and for those not part of the same venerable generation as I, the reason that Bill Gates included solitaire in the first version of Windows (the first “non” Apple GUI), was to “introduce” the mouse.

As simple as apple pie – not

That mouse reminds me:  about a year before I moved in with the computer geek, I worked for an organisation that had strong ties with the US – notwithstanding sanctions.  A dedicated Apple PC had been donated to the development office.  Complete with a database and system for managing donor relations.


No user manual.  No help desk.  No support.

It was my first introduction to a mouse and my first serious interaction with a PC in a few years, with my previous Apple “pie” having been less than memorable.  It was only when I upgraded from the Elf and to a PC with a mouse, that I discovered why I’d never mastered the development office Apple:  I had been using the mouse on its head!!!

Back to games:  I have long thought that they are a guy thing.  I’ve said so before, that I have an unscientific theory about games and boys:

I have often been struck by the time that the male of the species will spend either on playing a game, or creating (a) game(s) and striving for perfection.  Frankly, I have too much to do – in the kitchen, around the house and just getting on with life.  It was one of my pet peeves that my ex-husband could would live in a pig sty and eat swill and spend all his spare time on a game.  I just didn’t get it.

So, my theory is that women actually have a whole lot less free time than men.  Whether we like it or not, managing the home and caring for children is still primarily women’s work – over and above what we might do to earn a living.  Time on their hands, and what do men who don’t have a hobby, play sport and who no longer hunt for food, or go to war, do?

Create and play games.

What, on earth, is she on about?

All that to say , again, that I don’t do games?  Well blame it all on the bunch on Hive that run the monthly Top 3 contest.  This month’s theme:  top three favourite video games.  Clearly, I have none.

As I keep on saying, I don’t participate to compete, but because it’s fun.  More than a year later, my participation continues with much egging on by the good folk that run it.  Because the topics get the “Fiona treatment”…

So, without further ado, this is not an entry, but I shall allocate the proportion of earnings from this post that would normally have been my  entry fee for the contest, to the @yourtop3 account.

I trust that this month’s “Fiona treatment” passes muster!

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem with the occasional post on Medium.


Comforting Creamy Parsley Fish Pie

Today we started day fifteen of what is now at least a thirty-five day lock down.  I want to be sure of my facts…. Although the prospect of having to stay at home, is less than thrilling, I do think that looking at the evidence, it’s the right thing to do.  I will write more about why, and what I think about it, in time.

When our enforced stay at home was mooted, I began thinking about inexpensive, relatively easy meals to cook.  Covid Comfort food.  Food that can be made (and served) with frozen ingredients and which are relatively easy to make.  Notice I didn’t say quick.  Flavourful food, in my opinion is rarely quick – it takes time for flavours to develop.  They are also meals that can be frozen and, I admit, I was also thinking about people I know, who might need a square meal and don’t have the means to cook this type of food.

A saucy affair

This creamy fish pie continues the somewhat saucy theme of a couple of days ago:  it’s a Bechamel sauce that pulls it all together.  This was a meal that rarely appeared on our dinner table when I was a child. My father disliked fish and loathed parsely sauce.  The former, a function of his wartime childhood.  The latter, I now realise, was because he wasn’t fond of warm, milky things.

I love white sauce and one of my favourite winter meals is fish with peas and parsely sauce.

Pan fried fish with herbs, parsley sauce and peas.

One dish fish pie

This creamy fish pie doesn’t include the peas but combines the fish with the parsley sauce topped with creamy mash and baked in the oven to make a pot pie.

The recipe, which you can download here, is for as many as eight people, but is easily adjusted.

I did say it wasn’t difficult.  What I will say is that it takes a lot of dishes and must be done in stages.  Make it ahead of time and/or freeze it for another time.

First, poach the seasoned hake, cod or any white fish in milk.  Like for any bechamel sauce, enhance flavour by adding a bay leaf, peppercorns, a clove of garlic and chunks of a carrot.  When the fish is cooked, drain off the liquid and set aside.  Flake the fish and discard bones and skin.

While the fish is cooking, prepare the potatoes for the topping.  I like my mash rustic. I like the look and flavour of the bits of skin, so I don’t peel the potatoes.

Using the reserved poaching liquid, make a bechamel sauce and then add a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of finely chopped parsley.  I like a lot of parsley – and if you think you’re short of leaves, chop the stems and add them, too.

Once you have the three components ready, either combine the fish with the sauce, or place the fish into an oven proof dish and pour the sauce over it.  Finally, top with the mash.

At this point, the pie can be refrigerated or frozen.  To reheat, dot the top with butter and bake in a moderate oven until browned and bubbling.

Individual portions

I do make individual portions:  it freezes well.  Potatoes, however, need a little TLC:  make sure that the pie is properly heated through and brown on top so that the potato is not watery.

Add a little decadence

If you have some frozen seafood – shrimp and mussels – in the deep freeze, add a little luxury to this simple supper.  Do this either at the end of the poaching – perhaps with a little white wine – or when you assemble the pie to bake.

Serve with seasonal vegetables.  Or peas.  For me, it’s always peas.  With mint from the garden.

The flavours of warmth and comfort.   On one plate.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”… and… it’s fortunate that today I had something to get off my chest!  And…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.