A gruelling morning of shopping and pushing through the madding crowds emptied us of Christmas cheer so we decided to refill it at a local hostelry. Minutes from the loft, the Coachmaker’s Arms is by far the most patronised pub in the vicinity, despite the whiff of damp and the beer flies dive-bombing the kegs of real ale lined up behind the bar. The pub was nose to nipple but we managed to squeeze onto a couple of stools to rest our weary legs. As we supped, it was impossible not to eavesdrop on the animated conversations of the punters. Our ears swivelled like bats to the sound of a couple of Norfolk broads behind us:
“Well, lets face it, you’ve cheated on him loads of times.”
“No I haven’t. That was just a bunch of lesbians.”
Normal for Norfolk?
Aside from late starters, rent-a-womb celebrities and the yogurt pot and turkey-baster brigade, most people of a queer bent don’t have any children. The social revolution that enabled many of us to step out of the closet and skip hand-in-hand through the pansies also robbed us of a safety net. Where are the kids to protect us in our dotage? The irony is not lost on me. Our various nephews and nieces may well be fond of their limp-wristed old uncles but I don’t expect any of them to give up a spare room or change our nappies during our dribbling years.
Care of the old is a hot topic right now and Channel 4 News has been doing its bit to highlight the fate of the oldest gays in the village. I don’t know where Liam and I might end our days but we certainly won’t be stepping back into the closet for the convenience of a born-again carer, whatever the religious persuasion. So what to do?
I’m reading Alan Clark’s ‘Rory’s Boys’ for a bit of a steer (that’s Alan Clark, travel journalist and former mad man, not the late Alan Clark, former philanderer and right-wing diarist). Rory’s Boys is a fictional tale about Britain’s first retirement home for gay men; a private establishment for the well-endowed. We’re not talking a state-underfunded shit-hole where the inmates are ignored or worse by under-trained, couldn’t-care-less carers on zero-hour contracts. In care homes, as in life, you get what you pay for and it’s all our own fault. Society simply isn’t willing to stump up and pay for the old to shuffle off this mortal coil with their dignity intact. I certainly don’t think the municipal pension coming my way will stretch to private care; maybe assisted suicide will be the answer in the end.
Alan Clark and I have something in common (apart from the shirt lifting thang). Our books were both nominated for the 2012 Polari First Book Prize, made it to the top ten then fell at the last fence. I’m only a few pages into the book but, as the title suggests, I’m guessing Rory’s brave new world of cute orderlies with cut lunches and the Sound of Music on a loop, won’t include any of our lesbian sisters. It’s a sad fact of life that gay men and lesbians often struggle to get along. Activism and the marching season may bring us together now and again but generally, that’s it. When sex, romance and parenting are removed from the equation, men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus.
The Church of England continues to get its collective cassock in a twirl attempting to respond to the social changes beating down the cathedral door. The result is a dog’s breakfast of compromise and fudge that appears to please nobody. Female vicars are not allowed to be bishops but gay male priests can be if they promise to keep the Devil in their drawers, even those in a civil partnerships. God knows what they’ll say when marriage equality is introduced (and it will be). How is this to be monitored? Spy cameras in the boudoir of the bishop’s palace? Lie detectors at the altar? Early-morning electrodes for the lazy lob? The Old Testament evangelicals are spitting fire and brimstone, the traditionalists are defecting to the holier-than-thou papists and the lame liberals are tut-tutting all the way to the gay pub. The Church’s continuing self-flagellation over rumpy-bumpy between consenting males is laughable and yet the subject of girl-on-girl goings on is strangely absent from the debate. Lesbianism, it seems, doesn’t exist in Canon Law. You’d think that a church established out of political expediency would be more politically astute in these more egalitarian times. Surely they must know that few people care that much anymore?
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I flung open the closet door in the same year that ‘Going Straight’ first aired on the BBC. It was a time when the age of consent for gay men was 21* and the number of gay bars in London could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Fourth Estate – redtops and broadsheets alike – was routinely beastly to the down-trodden embryonic gay community and the police raided at will. It’s no surprise then, that my politics were a little leftish and I thought of myself as standing on the outside looking in. Now in my fifth decade, I find myself published in the Telegraph, that most ‘establishment’ of newspapers – only online, mind you. Read my Bumpy Rite of Passage. I’ve sold out for a sell-out.
*In fact it was only legal for two men to get down and dirty if they were alone in a private dwelling. Also, lesbianism was never a crime, presumably because most of the (male) public school lawmaking hypocrites not knocking off the boys on the side were rather turned on by the thought of their nannies at it.