I am not homosexual; never had any inclination in that regard. I mean, I wouldn’t have any problem saying so on the blog or acknowledging some long-ago flirtation with the idea but it never happened.
I can recall three encounters with Gay men in my life; a Chief Architect at Northumberland County Council who had a huge project on the boards that we thought we could become involved in, Arthur Lamb and the three guys in Berlin.
Architect guy was decades ago, what a temper he had in fact it was only after he had flounced out of a meeting for the umpteenth time that I realised he wasn’t normal. Seriously, have you ever held a meeting with a project architect, already stressed out of her mind because they are running three months behind and she is having her period? To be honest, I have probably met many gay men [1.7% of the adult male population] through my work but you really never knew. Anyway, people steer away from talking about their personal situation in business meetings. After, later or over a lunchtime sandwich they may open up a little but with me at least it took the form of, ‘I’m moving house soon and could do with a few high-security locks’ rather than, ‘No, I don’t have kids and never will’. Plus, some men [Gareth Wright comes to mind] are terminally effeminate and you know, you just know that they are bent until he tells you how expensive it was to take all four kids to France for a ski-ing holiday this year. But this architect, Jeez, I just didn’t know how to handle him: he posed, he pranced but he was my client and I was obliged unfortunately to manage shall we say, his changeable nature. You soon realised you were in a minefield and could upset him with a word or a gesture . . . and you better not ignore him. If he asks you a question, no matter how idiotic you have to formulate a reply without him realising he has just asked a stupid question. I still remember to this day what a handful he was.
Arthur Lamb was everyone’s idea of a poofter; he worked in the same office as me but his real existence was played out at night, as a cross-dressing cabaret act available to hire for pubs and back-rooms. I never saw his act but colleagues who had said he was pretty good.
I think Arthur went through hell as a gay man in sixties Newcastle. And it couldn’t be concealed or hidden, or managed. He had no option other than to be who and what he was with a genetic fault that meant he was a woman in a man’s body. I sometimes think that homosexuality and its various sub-strata has become a lifestyle choice now: the same HMG Poll that found 1.7% of adults identify as Gay also found that 2.4% of 16-24 year olds identify as Gay, mainly in London of course. The whole gay/lesbian ethos is strongly biased towards London; its 1% here, God knows what it was in Newcastle in the sixties. Statistically unmeasurable, I expect. I’m not saying that people should resist these urges, it’s out-there now; acceptable socially . . . just about . . . and I don’t know, the media, Hollywood make it all seem so positive: there are no penalties any longer unlike in Arthur’s day when penalties lurked around every corner. But you will never have your own children; you will now and forever be stigmatised by 90% of straight society. Is this really, really what you are, what you want to be?
I met Arthur later in life when I took over as MD of Laidlaws. He was there, older now living in an end terrace in Fenham that I believe he inherited from his mother. I was pleased to see him; a friendly face in that dysfunctional commercial disaster with no stock and nothing on order. He seemed pleased to see me again after thirty years or more. The pantomime Dame was long gone in fact he was quite ill with HIV/Aids and died during the three years I stayed there.
I went to Berlin in 1967 to see the Miles Davis Quintet play its only European gig at the Berlin Philharmonic. They were all there: Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and of course Miles himself, although they left the composer behind in New York. Don’t ask me what they played. Round Midnight was one of them. Mainly for me it was an inexpensive opportunity to get to Berlin, see the wall, Hitler’s Bunker and cross through Checkpoint Charlie to the Eastern side. It was just as you might expect, goose-stepping East German guards, watchtowers, floodlights, the taxi searched underneath with mirrors on poles. The wall was frightening; Hitler’s Bunker remarkably unaltered by the twenty or so years since the end of the war. East Berlin itself scarily empty with bomb-damaged building frontages kept standing with scaffolding.
I was supposed to share my room with Murray [he told me his surname but it is long-forgotten now] a gay man from west London, maybe ten-years older than me. Murray had come over with two of his friends and in fact all three of them bunked together by day, when I was out; one of them was called Michael, an achingly thin older man trying to look younger and a thin, incredibly camp incredibly lithe black kid just a little older than me who tried to steal my passport. Completely forgotten his name: was it Harris? Harrison? For the sake of the story I will call him Harrison.
Murray was a theatre lighting director: had no idea then or now what a lighting director does all day.
Michael owned a successful business manufacturing and selling men’s underwear.
Harrison was a dancer.
The idea that all gay men are theatre fanboys, and everyone who works in theatre is naturally gay is clearly a trope. I had never heard the word gay until I met these three: we called them queers. I couldn’t find a handhold anywhere to connect their sad and corrupted existence with the adjective gay. Gay was the last thing they seemed: Michael almost always guiltily concealing a package somewhere about his person and constantly terrified in case he found Harrison shagging someone else; he never took his eyes off him. Vulnerable Harrison without a penny to his name existing in some kind of after-life in which he always had to look good although someone else paid the bills, bought his clothes, acquired his drugs, fed him and paid the entrance fees to the Berlin Boys Clubs. Yes, I wondered frequently how many people on that trip actually came to see the Quintet. Me, I wanted to experience East Berlin when it was near-impossible to acquire a visa; them, they wanted to get round as many of Berlin’s gay clubs as they could fit in. They lived by night of course which is why it was okay to share my room with them.
They took me to see Hair . . . remember that? The fashionable full-frontal nude musical which at that time was banned in Britain. So naughty.
Michael didn’t care for me; he was much older and I was probably a Northern Oik to him, plus I wasn’t gay. Didn’t even take drugs . . . how straight can you get? Plus I might have been a potential threat and captured the heart of his beloved. His beloved wasn’t even remotely interested in me, as I said, he tried to steal my passport. Murray was very interested: he was funny and I laughed at his jokes. Maybe that’s all you need to make a relationship in Gay-land; laugh at someone’s jokes. But despite the fact that he received zilch signalling from me, he wouldn’t let it go, phoned and wrote me two letters when we all returned to England.
I did see Miles, at the afternoon matinee.
It was very interesting by the way, flying in to Berlin at night, seeing this sea of light approach in a void of darkness where a whole country lay.