We arrived early in Chelsea for our close encounter with Tut’s bling giving us the chance to wander round my old manor where, back in the day, I was the money counter in Habitat. Come Saturday afternoons, I used to hang out at the Markham Arms with punters spilling out onto the pavement, trying to catch the eye of a likely lad who might. And many did. The King’s Road was where London swung in the sixties and, in the seventies, glam rockers minced and punks strutted. These days the unique boutiques and the avant garde have given way to chic shops for the filthy rich surrounded by some of the most expensive property on the planet. The Markham Arms is now a bank.
Another pub where my youth was gloriously misspent was the Queen’s Head in (wait for it) Tryon Street. The scene of my undoing was probably Britain’s oldest gay pub, with a pink lineage stretching back to the buttoned-up fifties. Last time I looked back in 2013, the pub had been saved from developers wanting to make a mint converting the handsome building into luxury flats. Alas, it was a pyrrhic victory as this image confirms.
Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom on my trip down memory lane. Liam got to stand outside the former home of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. It made his day.
I was eleven when, in 1972, Tutankhamun last came to town. I queued for hours at the British Museum to get just a fleeting glimpse of that death mask as I filed past with all the other kids bussed in from the four corners of the realm. 47 years later, King Tut’s on tour again – probably his last – and Liam and I caught the London gig at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. Sadly, this time Tut left his extraordinary mask at home but there were plenty of other astonishing riches to gasp at. Let the bling speak for itself.
The exhibition – Tutankhamun, Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh – was very, very busy with lots of polite jostling, reflecting, perhaps, an eternal fascination with the antiquarian boy king and his burial booty. Apparently, ancient Eqyptians believed we all die twice – first with our final breath, and then the last time our name is mentioned. At this rate, young Tut really will live for ever.
Lauren Bacall died today. I’m not easily star-struck. As a young gay about town along Chelsea’s Kings Road, I worked in Habitat during its heyday. Stars and celebrities were ten a penny. I even had a ding dong with a famous actor once. It was no big deal. But one day, during a frenetic Saturday afternoon on the tills, Miss Bacall breezed in from the street and stopped the traffic. Her name spread through the building like flu and the store froze, jaws dropped and cash registers fell silent. Now that’s what I call a Hollywood moment.
This is my letter of hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens.
Dear 15 Year Old Me,
That was Then…
Jack, what the hell are you doing? She’s a nice girl and all that but, really, you know you’ll never get beyond heavy petting. Come on, be true to yourself. You’re leading her down the garden path to frustration and disappointment; she deserves better. Just admit that you don’t like ‘it’. Her pretty bits are all in the wrong places, aren’t they? Okay, it’s 1975, it’s the decade that fashion forgot and you’re only fifteen, but you know you know. It’s not just a phase.
London may well have swung through the Sixties when androgynous men wore makeup and liberated ladies burnt their bras, but it’s not stopped you thinking you’re the only one. Yes, trendy Chelsea is just across the river but it might as well be on a different planet. Pick up a newspaper, any paper, and it’ll scream ‘pervert’ at you. ‘Paedophile’ even. The thing is, you don’t feel like a pervert and you’re certainly not interested in pre-pubescent boys. You’re just different from your brothers and the other boys in your class. Stop beating yourself up and get a grip. It’s okay to be different. Your parents will love you regardless, though I admit the conversation might be awkward, perhaps painful. They won’t like it. There may be tears and recriminations. No parent wants their child to stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons. It might be dangerous taking centre stage in a hostile world but you’re strong enough to take the flak. Come on, Jack. You learned real pride and you learned it at your father’s knee.
This is Now…
Jack, what the hell are you doing? Turkey’s a nice place and all that but, really, it’s a Muslim country and you and your partner are living openly as a gay couple. You are 51 and resolutely ‘out’ to everyone, take it or leave it. I hear you got ‘married’ back in 2008, a splendid fanfare of friends and family. So, they came round then? You’ve had a life full of peaks and troughs, good times and bad. This is life as it should be. So, your sexuality is only one of the things that define you but it is one of the important things. You’re a happy, rounded individual. You don’t compromise. You change attitudes just by being you. You see? You did it.
As it turned out, I wasn’t so different from quite a few of the boys from the class of 75 after all. Do you have a letter of hope?
We were listening to Classic FM. Up popped Mozart’s Symphony No 41 in C Major (the ‘Jupiter’). Magic memories came flooding back of Liam’s long past days when he played oboe in minor league orchestras. He gushed about how he was plucked from obscurity to fly solo oboe for the Amadeus masterpiece at Chelsea Town Hall in 1997. While he was practising his art in the grand Victorian hall on the ground floor, I was practising my trade in the Social Services Department in the basement. We never passed on the stairs and I didn’t get the chance to finger his instrument until 2006.
I’ve started a little shop to add a few coppers to our coffers. It takes me back to the distant days of my misspent youth when I was a store boy on Chelsea’s trendy King’s Road. Days on the tills and nights on the tiles were the best probation for a young gay boy about town. My shop is stocked with a few hand-picked items that you never knew you couldn’t do without. Naturally, my book takes centre stage in the window display. So, if you’re looking for great deals on hotels, flights, books or anything on Amazon then visit Jack’s shop. It costs you nothing and I need the money. No pressure.