Month: February 2013

Leaping out of the closet

Before I took my GCSEs, I went hunting for somewhere to continue my education. The place turned out to be Middlesbrough, where I got an unconditional acceptance to a higher education journalism course (I’m don’t mean to boast, but, hey…) and went on to do my NUJ prelims.

The catch was I had to move to Middlesbrough from the rural village in North Yorkshire my parents were living in. All was not well at home, with my dad behaving oddly (he had MS and lesions on his brain; we wouldn’t know this for many years) and me unhappy with being one of the few gays in the village. So I packed my trunk and ran away to Middlesbrough, taking a room in house with a mature student and her children. I was poor, I was cold, I was an idiot and I was completely out of my depth while thinking I was the bee’s knees. I was back home in under six months.

Flash forward a few years and it’s time to leave home again. Having sat on the dole for a long time, going somewhere – anywhere – with work prospects appealed. My parents had retired to a small rural town where the only work was in the cattle market, at the MAFF offices or in a supermarket. And even that was hard to come by. I told the JobCentre I was moving to find work, which they loved because it got me off their books. I told my JobClub that I was moving and they reported me to Adjudication for not being prepared to stay if work was offered. Joined-up thinking as usual.

Off I went to York, where I found a job – in the JobCentre, with Adjudication – in almost no time at all. I had a lovely flat there. Mum would pop down to visit and we’d do the touristy things York has to offer, then she’d buy me dinner and get the train home. It was lovely.

One weekend there was something called “Pride in the Park” held in York. I plucked up my courage and went along, without telling my sister who was by now living with me: she was entertaining my half-brother who was visiting from Leeds. I didn’t come home that night, as I was having some truly fantastic sex (after a drought of about 18 months). I didn’t come home in the morning, either, and for the same reason. Gosh but sex is good.

This is before mobile phones, so when I pitched up at the flat in the late afternoon, my sister was beside herself. A shouting match then occurred as I couldn’t explain myself. Eventually, to shut her up, I told my sister I’d spent the night with a guy named Harry. She exploded. “Harry? What kind of name is that? Couldn’t you find a bloke with a 20th century name?” And thus was I out of the closet to my sister.

A few weeks later, my mum paid a visit and we went to the theatre. Still buzzing from Pride in the Park, I had a bracelet on that said “OUT AND PROUD”. While I’d covered up for her visit the couple of centrefolds I had added to my bedroom wall, I never thought to take the bracelet off.

At the theatre, I went to get drinks for us, buying three pints of beer to my sister and mum’s shock (it never occurred to me to buy them halves, of course, but I got a lecture about bladder capacity which means I now generally ask in a sideways way. When I forget to ask, women get pints, because OBVIOUSLY and DUH and I’m not a douchebag).

After the lecture, I had reason to reach for something. This exposed my wrist and the bracelet. My mum’s hand shot out and grabbed my arm. “What’s that say?” she asked. “Um, it, um, says, “out and… proud” I replied in a vanishing voice.

“So you’re gay then?” she asked.

“Yes”, I said.

“Do you want an ice cream tub to take into the performance?” she asked.

And thus did I leap out of the closet, in a rather shuffling and hunched manner. If I had my time over again… I wouldn’t do anything on that day differently.

If you like this post, may I recommend There Must be Fifty Ways to Tell Your Mother for further reading? It’s a lovely book. [Affiliate link]

The spoils system

“I’ve got a box here,” she said, “filled with gadgets and stuff that he must have bought. Could you look through it for us?”

Yes, Betty, I’m happy to, I lied.

She held the box close and took each item out of it one at a time.

“What’s this?” she asked.

An early digital camera.

“Is it worth anything?”

Nah. It might get £2 or £3 on eBay, but it’s very old by, you know, technology standards.

“Oh. Do you want it?”

No thank you.

She plucked another item from the box. “What’s this?”

A brand new, unused Apple iPhone 3G.

“Oh. Is it worth anything?”

Oh yes, a couple of hundred pounds.

She placed it carefully on the sideboard and reach back into the box.

“What’s this?”

A 32mb USB hard drive.

“Oh, is it worth anything?”

No, you get better ones free in Christmas Crackers these days.

“Oh. Do you want it?”

No thank you.

She reaches into the box again. “What’s this?”

A brand new Blackberry.

“Oh, is it worth anything?”

About £600, I think.

She places it on the sideboard and reaches into the box again. “What’s this?”

An scientific calculator. Bit of a museum piece.

“Oh, is it worth anything?”

Oh no, not these days.

“Oh. Do you want it?”

No, I’m alright thanks.

This continued for a very long time. For the record, Betty, I didn’t want the expensive stuff either.

Elderly actor joke

Lew Grade gets an audience with the pope.

“What do you do, my son?” asks the pontiff.

Lew replies, “I’m a theatrical agent, your Holiness”.

The pope responds: “Moonriiiiiver! Wiiiider than a miiiiile!”

Take my hand

I would’ve been 6 or 7 years old. 1981, 1982, thereabouts.

At home time at my junior school, we all lined up according to our test scores for the day: the highest scoring at the front of the line, the lowest at the back. We were then marched in a “crocodile” to the school gates where the bus awaited to take us home.

I was always a straight C pupil. If a test had a 51% pass margin, I got 51%. If it was 75%, I got 75%. This is a great way to live: you don’t get the pressure that A pupils get and you don’t get the condemnation that F pupils get. Coasting through life has long been my policy.

For whatever reason, one Friday I had top marks in my class. This was my mistake. Perhaps the subject at hand had been one to really interest me, or was about something I already knew. Whatever, I came top.

I found myself at the front of the line. Everybody joined hands, as required of a “crocodile” (and terrible for me with eczema-covered hands: nobody wanted to join hands with the boy with such awful fingers). The pupil at the front of the line, however, got to hold the hand of the teacher.

My teacher was the first male teacher I’d ever had. He seemed impossibly old at the time; a year later he took early retirement at 55. He was well-built and hairy and very fierce. He was also a bit too free with whacking you on the hand with a ruler for imagined transgressions, but those were the times.

I went to the front of the line. He reached for my hand and held it in a gentle but firm grip. I can remember all this in Cinemascope to this day: the bright summer sun and cold East Anglian breeze; that breeze moving the hairs on his hand. The watch on his wrist. My little hand in his big meaty hand. The wait for the bell to go. The walk to the… for want of a better term, staging area, for the bus.

And I knew. I just knew.

This was right. This was how it should be.

All I would ever need was a strong male hand holding mine. Always.