Evolution

I’ve always worked, even in the loosest sense of the word. When my dear old dad popped his clogs way too early, my mother lost her husband, her livelihood and her home in one fatal blow. I resolved not be a burden and dropped out of sixth form college to get a job. I was seventeen.

My first brush with gainful employment was at a meat importing company near Smithfield Market in the City of London. It was a tedious gig and some days it sent me to sleep – literally. In those days, I was far too fond of sowing my wild oats. My employers were very forgiving but we both knew it wasn’t a marriage made in bovine heaven.

Next up, flogging light bulbs to the rich and famous in Habitat, a trendy home store on London’s infamous King’s Road (well, it was infamous back in the day). Felicity Kendall was always sweet and Lionel Blair was always vile. My partner in crime was an eccentric old Chelsea girl who had the look of Margaret Lockwood and drove a battered Citroen 2CV. As a pretty boy with a wandering eye, I collected phone numbers on credit card slips and tripped the light fantastic. They were the heady days of a deliciously misspent youth: ‘Days on the tills and nights on the tiles…’ as I wrote in Perking the Pansies (that’s my first book by the way. Not a bad read so they say). Eventually, I abandoned the Lighting Department for the counting house and rose to the rank of Chief Cashier. Cooking the books took all of half a day and I soon tired of flicking the abacus and twiddling my thumbs.

A life in the New World beckoned. I threw caution to the wind and boarded a Freddie Laker flight to the good old U.S of A – a one-way ticket to the land of the free and the promiscuous. I planned to stay and wallow but after a few months spreading the love in Washington DC, I became homesick. Before long I was flying back across the Pond to a land being ravaged by rampant Thatcherism. Imagine if I had I stayed the course. I could be a Yankee citizen with an irritating mid-Atlantic accent and a completely different tale to bore you with.

The Iron Lady would have approved of my next position – credit controller at Citibank, trying to extract cash from the cashless. It was a soulless task. As a bleeding-heart liberal, my face was never going to fit and I jumped ship before I went under. Besides, it was time for me to grow up and get a mortgage. I got a proper job with a pension attached at the council. This wasn’t any old council, mind. Oh no, we’re talking the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a beneficent parish with the richest real estate on the planet and enough reserves to bail out Greece. More through luck than judgement, I crawled up the career ladder and become quite important with a fat budget and a hundred people to boss about. But then I met Liam and he turned my head with dreams of hazy, lazy days in the sun. I was seduced. We liquidated our assets, upped sticks and lived the dream for a time. It was the best thing I ever did, and we did it for as long as we could.

And now we’re back on home turf. Why? Well, you’ll have to read the sequel to find out. We soon looked for ways to pass the long samey days, anything to avoid the empty calories of daytime TV. Quite by chance, Turkey turned me into a writer and new skills bring new opportunities. What are they? Find out more in a day or so…

God Save the Queen’s Head

Once upon a time, too many years ago, I was a shop 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 man about town. Back then, I pulled quite a crowd in a small local saloon appropriately called ‘The Queen’s Head’ along the even more appropriately called ‘Tryon Street.’ It was a time when safe havens for happy homosexuals were few and far between and the pub provided a venue for people from all walks of life to meet and natter over a sweet sherry with the promise of more. Out of necessity, the gay scene was a great social leveller. The lord and the navvy would mingle happily without deference or embarrassment. What you were trumped who you were. This is when I served my apprenticeship and why kissing arse has never been my style. These days, the gay scene has been commercialised, internationalised and diversified beyond recognition with big business chasing the pink pound, leading to the decline of the little boozers away from the main drag with their no-frills bonhomie. Such is the case for the Queen’s Head, probably Britain’s oldest gay pub, with a pink lineage stretching back to the buttoned-up Fifties. It no longer draws in the punters from far and wide and relies too heavily on an aging crowd who, like me, are in constant danger of permanently dropping off their bar stools. Takings are down.

The inevitable happened. Developers stepped in with plans to convert the building into luxury flats. Time to make a killing. After all, this is Chelsea, a place with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. Locals were having none of it, gay and straight alike (and those in between). There was a groundswell of opposition supported by a well organised petition. I signed it for old time’s sake. I’m glad to report that the wise burghers of Kensington and Chelsea (my old employers) saw the writing on the wall and turned the planning application down. The pub has been saved – for now.

I’m not one of those old fairy farts who bleat on about how much better it was back in the day. It wasn’t. Many (if not most) gay people lived in fear of prosecution, exposure, blackmail and violence. I’m glad the scene is out of the closet and on the high street. However, next time I mince down the King’s Road, I’ll definitely be popping into my old trolling ground for a pint or two. Why don’t you join me? If the gay community really does have a culture worthy of the name, the Queen’s Head is surely part of it.

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