I was nineteen and a half, more or less, when I was demobbed from the Royal Air Force. I'd discovered, not that I wasn't aware of it deep down before, that I was queer. I'd also found my way out of virginity, thanks to a fellow aircraftsman called Jim. I thought we were in love but it was only sex. ONLY sex! What am I talking about? It was glorious, rip-roaring, legs up for Dorothy, groin shattering, bowel shaking, knee trembling, ecstatic, here's to the next time, messy, write home to mother, no holds barred SEX - and if we didn't know much about how to go about it on that fateful June 2nd 1953, Coronation Day, we certainly did by the time we had to split up when Jim was sent abroad to Cyprus and I was transferred to HQ Bomber Command at High Wycombe, Bucks. In our separate postings a thousand miles or so apart we each saw out the remainder of our National Service. I think we were demobbed on the same date. I'm pretty sure we had mentioned our leaving date in some conversation we had had, lying side by side, replete after coitus, nibbling blades of grass, our arms touching but he went back to Nottingham and I to London and, up to the time of writing, I've never seen him again.
London: The cosmopolitan centre of the world as I thought of it and surely somewhere where I could find fun of any perverse sort but I didn't know where to look for it and certainly the leafy suburbs of Muswell Hill were hardly the queer centre of the Metropolis. My affair with Jim had whetted my appetite for other than solitary, masturbatory sex and I wanted a boyfriend, as I thought of him. I needed a boyfriend. Around every corner of Dukes Avenue and Elgin Road, and Cranford Drive I expected my fairy Prince would come, our eyes would lock and, from the pricking of my thumbs (or rather from the thrumming of my prick) I would know that this was the one. But I met no one and, as my parents continually told me, "Stop mooning about like a lovesick girl, Peter, you need to get yourself a job." I needed to get myself a boyfriend a job a boyfriend a job.
I could always have joined my father in his export business in the City, Preston and Co (Enterprises) Ltd., but I'd already tried that for six months in the gap between my leaving school and being called up and it hadn't been an unqualified success. I wasn't a business man (I wasn't exactly sure what I was, of course), I wasn't interested in plastic combs, bales of material, and other sundry items which we exported to the British West Indies (as it was then) and anyway no one in the office, my father, my uncle, Old Mr Mills in accounts, three secretaries and the office manager who had spots, were not likely to fulfil my dreams of ecstasy.
I would strike out on my own, I decided. Surely someone would want to employ a bright, enthusiastic, not exactly ill-favoured, well-versed in the ways of sex (this last not actually included in my C.V.), young man and thus I found myself working for the Tottenham and District Gas Company.
By this time I had assumed that, apart from myself and Jim (and possibly Bo) there were no other queers in the world. We were aberrant mutants and would have to live out our lives in dreadful loneliness. You can perhaps imagine my joy when I came across a book from the local library called 'The Charioteer' (1953) by Mary Renault. It was an odd book to find in a small library which mainly catered for elderly ladies whose idea of a racy read would be something by Ngaio Marsh, but here it was, a gay book, trying to hide itself behind the respectable murders of Dorothy L Sayers and Josephine Tey. Perhaps one of the librarians was queer, but if he was, he never impinged on my consciousness as a possible boyfriend.
'The Charioteer' is about a young soldier, Laurie Odell, who, while recovering from wounds received at Dunkirk, meets Andrew Raynes, a young conscientious objector. On their first meeting, Laurie quietly and irrevocably falls in love. Then, through a chance meeting during an air raid, an impromptu invitation to a party, a dropped name he meets again Ralph Lanyon, the head of his old school who was expelled for homosexuality.
I was amazed and indeed exhilarated. So there were other queers around. Of course the people in the book were fiction but if they could be written about then surely that meant there were real ones somewhere and indeed ones who, like myself, would read the book. I read it from end to end and then again. When my week was up I borrowed it again and read it a third time, slowly, trying to tease out every detail. Of course there were no descriptions of explicit sexual acts at this time, the best/worst one could expect was a kiss but a kiss between men I thought back to Bo and Spic, and of course between me and Jim. I tried to get the book for another week but the librarian, a grey-haired woman with tight lips said it had been requested by someone else. I wondered who but I couldn't ask and anyway she would never have told me.
What was the significance of 'the charioteer'? Plato's Phaedo tells his story driving his two horses, one white, one black, one amenable, the other wild and unstable. So in man there is a conformist part and an untamed, passionate part. It is the duty of the charioteer to keep them together. Bugger that, I thought. I want my dark horse to run away with me. How I wanted that, but where could I direct my passion to?
One morning, in the dusty confines of the Gas Board where we squandered our souls to pieces of paper, a new office boy arrived. We called them office 'boys' though some were middle-aged. This one must have been about my age. One of his jobs was to deliver the daily piles of paper which informed us of new and existing customers and how much gas they were using as read by the meter men, these to be entered in great ledgers so that they would exist until the end of time.
He had a shock of brown hair which stood up in all directions, an open face and a smile so wide as to encompass the world. He had a broad Cockney accent and a cheerful comment for everyone.
"Wotcher, mate," he said to me. "You've gotta big 'un today," as he plumped down a pile of papers.
I felt myself blushing. Did he understand the double entendre? His smile could have indicated compliance or just well-wishing.
Feeling bold, I said, "You've been looking."
He laughed, clapped me on the shoulder and went on whistling.
My boss, Mr Porter, sitting at the desk opposite me frowned. "He should take life more seriously," he said.
No he shouldn't, I felt like answering. He should laugh and make dirty jokes and whistle and enjoy life and, I might have added, go to bed with me and have marvellous sex - or he'll grow old and grey like you and have a permanent frown and probably an ulcer.
None of this I said, of course, but at lunch time in the canteen, carrying my tray of shepherd's pie made with some dubious minced meat and reconstituted potato (there was still rationing even eight years after the war had ended), and tinned pears for pudding (a real treat this), I located him sitting with some others, went over feeling scared that I'd be snubbed and asked if they'd mind my joining them.
He looked at me, winking as if we shared some tremendous joke and said, "Course not. 'Ere, shove up your fat arses, let my mate in." And they moved so that I could sit next to him and feel his thigh against mine while he laughed and made fun of all the bosses, and the job, and the Gas Company, and the world - and I fell in love with him straight away.
His name was Paul Frost. I told him mine was Peter Preston. "Peter an' Paul," he said. "A coupla saints, I don't think," and he dug his elbow into my ribs in complicity.
Our friendship ripened even though it wasn't quite done for the office staff to fraternise with the messenger boys, as my boss told me after he saw how friendly we were getting, but I didn't care. We swopped jokes, well mine were few, but his were legion. We told of our experiences in the forces (suitably edited on my part). He'd been in the Army, actually gone abroad to Egypt, through the Suez Canal, down to South Africa, Cape Town.
"What was that for?" I asked. As far as I knew there'd been no trouble down there.
"No idea," he said and roared with laughter at the absurdity of everything.
But there was something that he was serious about and when I heard, I scarcely believed it thinking it was another of his jokes. He did Old Tyme Dancing. I wasn't even sure what that was but he explained. Nothing modern like jitterbugging, Old Tyme was set dances which you took seriously, even went into competitions for, won cups and medals. It was serious and demanded skill and grace and tons and tons of effort.
"You could come to one of them wiv me," he said. "Just a casual ordinary dance but just to see what it's like. There's one on this weekend, local. Kentish Town. Be a bit of fun. Might even pick up a girl. You need a girl for dancing, y'see. Though who needs one afterwards when you got your mates."
Now what did that mean? You needed a girl for dancing but afterwards a mate would do? For going out to have a drink? Or something more 'interesting'? His open, smiling face gave nothing away but I hoped for the best.
But Old Tyme Dancing, what was that? I asked my mother because I thought she might be more likely to know than anyone of my generation, and I didn't want to show my ignorance to Paul. If he liked it, it must be OK.
Mother though seemed vague. "Things like the Veleta, Military Two-step, the Lancers," she said. "You all do the same steps I think." That worried me a bit. I didn't know the steps. I'd look a fool, but I'd said yes so, come Saturday, I drove my car round to Paul's house in Finsbury Park. Yes, I'd got a car, a two-seater Austin 7 with a top that pushed back so that it looked sporty and cable brakes that occasionally snapped and left me and the car brakeless and terrifyingly lethal. Paul lived above a shop which his mother owned and which sold women's clothes. He also had a father, a grey, rather shrunken man who said very little and spent most of his time sitting in a chair, smoking and frowning. How he could possibly have fathered my jolly, grinning 'mate'.
That Saturday things were well under way by the time we got to the hall. There was music from records and a 'caller' who told us what to do. That was a great relief. Most of the people there were female and over forty. A couple of decades later a comedienne called Joyce Grenfell sang a song called 'Stately like a galleon'. Of course I didn't know it then but it describes exactly what was happening there at the Kentish Town Community Hall, Old Tyme Night. One verse goes:
"Stately as a galleon, I sail across the floor,
Doing the Military Two-step, as in the days of yore.
I dance with Mrs Tiverton; she's light on her feet, in spite
Of turning the scale at fourteen stone, and being of medium height.
So gay the band,
So giddy the sight,
Full evening dress is a must,
But the zest goes out of a beautiful waltz
When you dance it bust to bust."
Not that I'd have minded dancing with Paul, bust to bust, or at least groin to groin.
"Any newcomers here tonight?" asked the caller.
"Go on," said Paul, poking me in the ribs. "Put your hand up. I'll do the same."
Luckily there were some others as well so, before the next dance, the caller went through the steps - and I got a cheerful woman who was slimmish and said, "You'll be all right, dear. I'll show you what to do."
I looked over at Paul who waved cheerily. He'd got an almost young girl and I felt a bit embarrassed, but my partner, 'call me Susan. dear', was cheerful and encouraging. The sequence wasn't difficult and repeated itself time after time. I found that I got it quickly - and in fact enjoyed the dance. Susan posed no threat and we got on well. I tried some more dances and picked them up quickly. In fact I enjoyed myself.
"What did I tell yer?" said Paul. "It's fun, innit? Next time we'll go to a 'real' dance where the 'real' dancers go."
"Yeah," he said. "The competition types. They take it real serious. You'll see."
By the end of the evening Paul was in a state of high excitement. The dancing was like a drug to him and I felt some of his exhilaration though perhaps mine was just being with him. He became even more demonstrative he was always someone who touched, laid his hands on my arm, poked me in the ribs etc. but now he put his arms round my shoulders and we stood side by side touching at the hip and thigh, and me getting a bit of a hard. His eyes were shining.
At the end of the dance, 10 o'clock, there was just time for Paul and me to get to the local pub before 'closing time' and have a couple of drinks. Two halves were enough for me but he had pints. At chucking out time, he held my arm. "You're a good mate, Pete," he said as we drove back to his home. "Come in for a cuppa."
It would be tea, I knew; coffee wasn't for the likes of us at this time.
Mrs Frost was still up even though it was well past eleven o'clock and working away on her sewing machine but she stopped to put the kettle on. Actually the kettle was always on in that house. I guess occasionally it boiled nearly dry and then it was filled up and still stayed on the gas ring. Mr Frost was missing, gone to bed, I expect. He rarely seemed to be doing anything constructive.
"We'll take it upstairs," said Paul. His room was on the second floor, three flights up, at the top of the house. There were two rooms, Paul's and an empty one. They were ill-furnished, cold lino on the floor, a bed in each and a chest of drawers in Paul's room, a wardrobe in the other one. Paul had a wireless tuned to Radio Luxembourg and we sat on the bed together, drank our tea and listened to 'Wake up Little Suzie' by the Everly Brothers, 'Standing on the Corner (Watching all the Girls go by)' by the Four Lads.
There was a thumping sound from the floor below Mr Frost from his bedroom banging on the ceiling with his stick, according to Paul. He giggled but turned the sound down. Then he dug me in the ribs with his elbow. "You done all right this evening," he said. "We'll go again." It seemed that he was organising my life, but I didn't mind. I was totally infatuated. I wanted to be with him like this, sitting together on the bed, for ever.
But it was getting late. "I'd better be going," I said.
"You could move in here if you wanted to," said Paul. "The room next door's free. Mum could use the rent. It wouldn't be much."
"Do you want me to?" I asked. It was a foolish question, feeble and only asked because I wanted to hear him say that he did. Perhaps to him though it smacked of the sentimental. "It might be fun," he said, "but you'll 'ave to decide on your own." Then he gave me a push so that I fell sideways onto the bed and he wrestled with me, jumping on top so that his whole body lay over me and I struggled to get free (or rather to keep myself under there so that I could feel his weight pressed down).
Of course my member gave me away, automatically going hard, and I had to keep that away from him so that he couldn't feel it. I tried to avoid pressing it into parts of Paul as we twisted together. I could smell him and there were times when my face was into bits of his body, his neck, his armpit, once - whoops careful, in his groin. He smelled of clean soap and something special which was Paul, slightly musky, sweet. Then he pulled away, laughing. "You'll 'ave to fight 'arder than that if you want to get on top of me."
I breathed heavily. Surely I was 'hard' enough. I drove home, singing. Of course I would move in. I would talk to my parents the following day. I was too old to be living with them anyway. They had enough children, what with my sister and baby brother to look after. So I rationalised the situation to myself, knowing that it was what I wanted. A live-in boyfriend. Of course Paul was queer like me. He must be. Everything pointed to it.
Love is blind, they say but then so is lust.
Who needs to make a long story longer? In the end I did move in. We did go to 'real' dances where competition dancers showed us how it was done elegantly and Paul and I even had lessons with a proper dance teacher. We found ourselves some regular partners of about our own ages and started entering ourselves into the competitions. There was a friendly rivalry about our efforts. I lost my novice status first at the Orchid Ballroom, Purley, which meant that I was now officially an 'amateur' and couldn't go in for any more 'Novice Competitions'. We celebrated that with some drinks at the bar and then back at home with a 'wrestling match' which was furious enough for me to get Paul down and hold him down until I feared he would feel my 'excitement' and I let him go.
"That's because I'm no longer a novice," I said. "And you still are!"
The year 1953 drew to a close. Paul got the sack from the Gas Company but got another job almost immediately, stacking parcels for an electrical plug manufacturing company. What tedious lives we do lead in reality. My make-believe life in the dancing world. Both Paul and I in 'tails' with white bow ties. The music. The girls in sequin clustered voile (if that was what it was called). The friendly rivalry, especially when I won an Amateur Competition at Tottenham Town Hall and we, Valerie and I, got our first 'trophy'. My coming home with Paul, friendly wrestling which one day, I was sure, would go just that bit further. Those were my real life.
One day on a freezing January evening, Paul told me that, on the way home from work, he'd been groped by a guy on the tube. "Fucking queers," he said. "If I had my way they'd be castrated."
But even this didn't put me off. Quite right that he should be angry with someone else making advances to him in a train. He and I were something special. We were like brothers, partners, nearly lovers. When the time came, he would realise that we would go just that bit further and we would enjoy each other.
At the same time, events conspired to throw us even closer together. It was a bitterly cold January and there was no heating on that upstairs floor. In our separate beds, we shivered through the night until one of us suggested - I can't remember who, but I really think it was Paul that we should share the same bed. Just for warmth of course.
And I remembered that first night at RAF Bawtry when I slept with Jim (how could I ever forget) again 'just for warmth' and indeed nothing had happened, well, not until much later. This time we would see. There was no talk of sleeping 'top to tail'; we just bundled into bed and clutched each other, shivering uncontrollably until the spasms ceased and we felt each other's shared warmth.
"That's better, innit?" said Paul and I wrapped in his arms. his body next to mine, even our legs entwined, agreed. Did I sleep any better? Well, the shivering ceased but I was in a high state of arousal and, when eventually settled into a comfortable sleeping position, he wrapped round me, his front to my back (safer that way), his soft warm breath on the back of my neck like kisses I was too much in a state of bliss to sleep. Yet sleep I suppose I did for I remember waking, that first morning, still entangled with the body of my beloved and praying that the cold weather would go on for ever.
It didn't of course but it certainly went on for a couple of months, months of bliss and frustration. Then, and I knew it would eventually, things, as they say, came to a head. One night I woke. It was still dark and Paul was lying on his back next to me. I could always say that I was asleep but I moved slightly and allowed my hand to rest in his crotch. I could feel the softness of his genitals enclosed in his Y-fronts. He didn't move but I sensed a slight stiffening. Again, and just as if I was moving in my sleep, I turned my hand over so that I was in essence grasping his cock. I could feel it, first long and soft, then lengthening and harder and finally, ecstasy upon ecstasy, protruding from the gap in his underpants. Paul's underwear was never very new, clean certainly, but tending to sag and the gap in front allowed this cock to escape into what was in essence my grasp.
What to do with it now? Paul hadn't moved well the rest of him hadn't and here I was clasping his erect penis. Greatly daring I squeezed it and gently rubbed it up and down. I suddenly realised how quiet it was. I was holding my breath and I couldn't hear Paul breathing either. I stopped my gentle rubbing wondering whether just to remove my hand, pretend I was having a dream or something. But then Paul pushed his prick through my hand. He was in fact fucking my fist. I grasped him again and rubbed opposite to his thrusts. I heard his breath again, harsh, almost panting. His cock twitched. I knew he was going to come. He pulsed and I felt the warm wetness onto my leg. Five times he came and then stopped. Was he going to say anything? Would he touch me, my prick straining at my own underwear? I waited. Then he gave a sort of sigh, or was it a groan and turned away from me, his back a wall against any further activity.
I lay there, wondering what I had done to our relationship, wondering whether to say anything, perhaps to pretend I had been asleep all the time. There was a gap between his back and me and I felt the cold air filling the space. Yet he had made the movements though I of course had initiated the whole proceedings. I lay there for a long time. I think Paul was awake too. Just before dawn I dropped off and when I awoke I was alone in the bed. He had gone downstairs to the bathroom. I got up and dressed and waited.
At last he came upstairs. No longer was he smiling.
"Paul," I began.
"I was awake," he said.
Of course he was awake. I knew he was awake but he hadn't protested.
"I'm sorry," I said. "But you wanted to come."
For a moment he looked as if he was going to hit me.
"I won't do it again," I said.
He didn't answer.
"Do you want me to leave?" I asked.
He looked at me and then nodded.
Maybe we should have discussed things 'tried' to discuss things. Perhaps I could have reassured him that one little incident like that didn't make him a queer. I could have explained my feelings though whether that would have helped I don't know. Anyway I didn't.
I tell it how it was.
The same day I got my things together, said good-bye to Mr and Mrs Frost and went back to my parents.
I left the Gas Company soon afterwards as well. Mr Porter said he was sorry to see me go. He could see a future for me in the company which was more than I could. Just before my week's notice was up he asked me whether I still saw 'that Frost boy'.
"No," I said.
"Pity," he said. "He was a bright young man."
Yes," I said sadly, betrayed by my loss. "He was."
* * * * * *
Having Fun (Part 2)
York Way, Kings Cross by night is a favourite cruising area for teenage (and older) hustlers. It wasn't back in the days when I worked there for the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co. Ltd. Or at least I don't think it was otherwise I'd have been there no doubt trying to find someone to go to bed with (I use the term loosely as I could have been quite happy with a knee trembler, a blow job or indeed anything that culminated in an orgasm mine of course).
I was still trying to find a boyfriend.
The debacle with Paul Frost had if anything increased the urge. I knew there were men of a similar persuasion to mine out there. One had attempted to pick up Paul on the tube, so I travelled on that whenever I could. Admittedly in the rush hour, the number of people who were pushed into you and at whom you pushed back were innumerable. Sometimes if the young man immediately in front of me was even moderately good-looking I'd attempt to manoeuvre myself into crotch range and make a tentative contact. Now and then I'd get an angry stare, at other times my 'victim' would attempt to back off looking uncomfortable. Once I had a return thrust and we spent an entertaining few minutes between stations rubbing ourselves into a state of high excitement before the rush of people at High Holborn (where we both got out) parted us and he disappeared for ever into the swirling throng.
To return though to York Road and the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co. Ltd. My job there was stock clerk. Engineers would draw items from the stores and, in theory at least, make out a chitty with the said items so that I could mark them off my records. Then, if I was asked what the present state of, for instance, item OC25796, copper alloy inner hoop with brass fixing ring, I could fairly confidently assert, 'Yes, we have stocks of 14,672.'
Trouble was engineers are notoriously bad at making out accurate dockets and, from time to time I would have to make a physical search to find that, though on paper we had an enormous stock, in reality we only had five and there would be a panic buy to replace the item. They (the engineers) were also quite likely to pocket a few for private use, though what they did with these strange items, I had no idea.
Not that anyone seemed remotely concerned with this. Records were considered something of a joke and, if we didn't actually run out of an important item, then no one bothered. The department, of which I was only a tiny part, was run by a harridan of a woman, dwarfish in stature but she made up for her limited height by a voice and temper of such magnitude that we could hear her coming towards our room from three corridors away. Usually at that time I would decide to do a physical check on something and scurry down to the stores to get lost amongst the shelves and bins of that Tardis-like place (larger inside than the outside) checking up on gudgeon pins or glister loops or some such unlikely article, only returning when Miss Delaney's voice could no longer be heard.
The odd thing was that apparently (though I didn't know it at the time) she must have had a penchant for homosexuals. Whether it was deliberate or not, she'd managed to collect a coterie of young gays into her department. Serendipity or not, when we all came out to each other it was as camp as a Boys' Brigade jamboree.
There was Nick who had such beautiful white teeth that I swore they were false, though he always denied it. Rhys Williams with the lovely Welsh lilt to his voice, Another Peter lived with an elderly man with a bald head and a terrible wig. Me of course and then there was Gavin Hughes. There may have been more but we five were the main ones.
What can I say about Gavin? He was tall and slim, with dark hair and eyebrows, a strong nose and sensual lips. His eyes were brown and his jaw strong. I thought he was handsome in a very masculine way. His desk was on the other side of the office where we all worked. I had noticed him from the start this was a long time before we knew the whole office had been infiltrated by gays and I couldn't help looking over at him from time to time. Then I noticed that he was looking back. We'd smile and I'd go back to my filing cabinet and try to look busy.
Then suddenly one morning he was standing by my desk. I looked up and he wasn't handsome, he was breathtakingly beautiful. I do it easily, probably much too easily. I was in love again. My hand, at the edge of the desk, was inches away from his groin. I didn't want to draw attention to it by moving so I left it there. Was he aware of it? I've no idea but I was and I couldn't think of a thing to say.
He helped me out. He looked deep into my eyes. I noticed that my hand was now grasping the edge of the desk, my knuckles brushing the swelling mound in his trousers. "I love you," he said, pushing his groin against the back of my hand. "I want to take you to bed, strip you naked, cover your body with kisses, lick every part of you. Take you into my body wherever possible. Stay with you for ever. Will you be mine?"
"Ugggh," I said staring at him with open mouth.
Of course he hadn't said anything remotely like that. My vacant gaze and semi-imbecilic monosyllable had probably put him off for ever. Nor had my hand moved; it was still lying where it had been on the desk.
What he actually said was," I'm from Processing over there." He nodded to the other side of the room. Of course I knew that. I'd been staring at him on and off ever since I joined the company. "Can you tell me how many H4375a's we've got in stock?" Then he added. "My name's Gavin, by the way. Gavin Hughes." He had a pleasant, lilting voice, obviously Welsh, but then I'm no xenophobe.
I knew I had to speak but I'd temporarily forgotten my own name. I turned to the records cabinet in which we kept the cards. This was back in the pre-computer days. Records were kept on cards and stored in long thin drawers. What had he said? H something?
I pulled open the 'H' drawer. Now you have to be careful with these drawers. They run with little wheels in grooves. If you pull them out too far they tip up and the cards all fall out. This, of course, is exactly what happened. Cards fell like confetti at a wedding but I knew that any possible 'marriage' to this Celtic demigod was now entirely out of my reach. He would know that not only was I moronically aphasic but I was obviously a physical cripple.
"Shit," I said, wishing that the world would come to an end. "Oh bloody shit."
He spoke. "Sorry. I guess that was my fault, making you jump and that. Here let me help."
He got down on the floor and together we picked up the cards, our fingers occasionally brushing, his body close to mine. "What did you say your name was?" he asked.
"Peter," I said, memory returning. "Peter Preston. And here's the card you wanted."
I picked it up. "How many do you need?"
"Only six," he said.
There were ten on the card. "Sometimes," I admitted, "these aren't always too accurate. I'll have to go down to the stores and do a physical check."
He nodded. "I'll come with you."
He wants to come with me, I thought, then I heard the strident tones of Miss Delaney in the distance and I knew the real reason.
The stores were down in the basement. They smelled of damp and dust and oil - most of the metal goods were covered with grease as a protection against rust. There were no windows of course but they were lit by low wattage bulbs suspended from the roof at distances just that far apart so that there was a short gap of shadow between each one. The man in charge, named Arthur (or rather 'Arfer') was a pale cheroot of an individual with a flat cap and a fag end (often unlit) permanently stuck in the corner of his mouth.
"Just going to have a check, Arfer," I said.
"Don't get lost," he replied, as he always did. This was a joke but it did have an element of reality in it. The whole place was a maze of shelves filled with the strange items which WBSC produced and divided by the long, ill-lit passages. I suppose that turning right at every crossing would always find the way out but I sometimes fancifully wondered whether there were lost employees of the company forever wandering these aisles and still looking vainly for some engineering widget which had long been withdrawn from stock.
By now I more or less knew the way and set off confidently to the bin I hoped contained enough H4375a units. Gavin followed me chatting inconsequentially about the company and the foibles of its staff. I wondered if, after my performance earlier, I'd become part of his repartee.
As we got further into the bowels of the place, he fell silent. I looked at him and instead of following he drew to my side. There was just room for two people walking abreast though our arms brushed from time to time. I slowed down as we reached the bin. It had the number printed neatly on the top. I was about to open the lid when I saw that he was looking at me, that he was standing very close to me. My initial reaction would have been to take a step backward but I didn't want to. Instead I moved slightly nearer.
He lifted his arm and touched me on the shoulder. It was obvious what was going to happen. Here was no 'straight' Paul Frost, needing to be encouraged into fumbling sex. Here was a guy like me who wanted what I wanted. He drew me closer so that we touched lips, chest, groin, thighs. We kissed and like a long-forgotten dream the activities Jim and I had learned so slowly yet enjoyably, came back. Gavin's tongue curled like a serpent, entwined with mine. His arms fastened on my buttocks and drew me into him so that our cocks strained and pressed against each other, growing hard and almost uncomfortable in the confines of underwear. Not that that stopped us pushing. It was as if we were trying to get into each other, two halves straining to make one whole.
My hand at the back, under his jacket, felt the top of his trousers, went down inside, found skin and the cleft between buttocks, down and in so that I probed and probed the centre of his being. Gavin gasped, his mouth wide open.
Who knows what we would have done, how far we would have gone but a wheezy cough from a parallel aisle reminded us that we were not the only two people in the universe. 'Arfer' had come to find us. Swiftly we drew apart, arranged cocks so that their hardness wasn't so obvious and I opened the bin to find ten units, just as my record cards had shown. Triumphantly I smiled. Of course that wasn't really what I was smiling about.
"Fought you might of got lorst," said 'Arfer' turning the corner.
How nearly we had, I thought.
And that was the start of my affair with Gavin.
Rhys Williams (whom I mentioned above) came from the same village in North Wales as Gavin. Rhys lived with a lawyer called Arnold (hope this isn't getting too complicated) in a ground floor flat in Belsize Park (which is nearly Hampstead but not quite so posh). Gavin shared this flat having a large separate bed/sitting room with a small kitchen area in the corner. Everyone shared the bathroom/toilet not at the same time you understand. (Well, that wasn't always quite true).
I got invited to meet Rhys and Arnold quite soon. We had some brief conversation, very pleasant, very civilised and then Gavin took me into HIS part of the flat and everything became even more pleasant and a lot less 'civilised'.
OK well, I'll admit it. Jack rabbits weren't in it. We were fucking and licking and frotting and rubbing and kissing and sucking and stroking and humping and blowing and jerking and coming (oh yes, the coming!) like there was no tomorrow. Except that there was a tomorrow but when that came we woke up and immediately went back to doing the same things (and variations of them). After all we were young and full of testosterone and I hadn't had it for a LONG time, and Gavin said he hadn't either. Rhys and Arnold were very understanding and provided us with occasional energy-renewing snacks and healthy drinks (Lucozade was, I remember, much in vogue).
We certainly made up for the long abstinence emerging on Monday morning looking like two shagged-out ghosts, a fact which was not left unremarked upon by our work mates. In fact Miss Delaney, in the only expression of compassion I ever saw her show, asked us if we were 'going down with something', an expression which nearly brought on an attack of mirth (feeble though it would have to be our reserves of strength weren't up to anything energetic).
Of course we slowed down somewhat over the next few weeks; we'd have been dead otherwise. I left my long-suffering parents yet again what must they have been thinking? Though they never criticised and moved into that room with Gavin.
I do not intend to describe in any more explicit detail our sexual activities this is a tale of the times rather than a lurid pornographic story. Suffice it to say that, as we became less frenetic, we became more skilful. I had found my 'boyfriend' and we loved each other.
But from time to time we emerged from our room and I started to experience the gay life.
Of course you must remember that in the 1950s homosexual behaviour was against the law whatever your age. Rhys and Arnold knew all about this and warned us. The police used attractive young officers to entrap queers in public toilets; the punishment for 'lewd behaviour' was prison. Very little had changed since the time of Oscar Wilde. In fact there was a police 'purge' of queers in the 1950s. Some famous people were arrested and received prison sentences or fines. These included: Rupert Croft-Cooke, aged 50, a novelist, playwright, biographer, travel writer, and book critic of The Sketch. Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu (Lord Montagu), aged 27, third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, an old Etonian, ex-Grenadier Guards Officer, and best known for his vintage car museum at his historic Hampshire home, Palace House at Beaulieu. Michael Pitt-Rivers, a second cousin of Edward Montagu, and great-grandson of the famous archaeologist, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900). Peter Wildeblood, aged. 31, journalist and diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail. John Gielgud, the actor, who was arrested for homosexual importuning in Chelsea. Giving a false name, he was fined £10 but the press found out and it became front page news.
Did we care about all this, Gavin and I? As I remember not at all.
But as well as this we learned where to go. There was the King William IV pub in Hampstead which was gay. There were gay clubs in the West End, like the 101 and the Neptune, the A & B and the Rockingham. Hampstead Heath was a gay trolling ground but that was dangerous, either because of occasional police raids or from attacks by 'queer-bashers'. And of course all the 'cottages' (public lavatories) could be either productive or precarious.
We visited most of these places and 'had fun', made friends but kept our relationship secure. We were known as Mr and Mrs Devoted. I learned what 'camp' meant and that strange language known as 'Polari' which allowed us queers to talk to each other without the straights understanding well that was the theory anyway. As in the following little snatch of overheard conversation.
1st man: Vada that butch dish. (Look at that attractive male)
2nd man: What a basket. And the eek, Fantabulosa! (What a provocative bulge in the groin area. And the face. Beautiful)
1st man: Take care though. I think she's lilly. Seen her hanging around while I've been trolling the cottages. (Beware. I think he's a policeman. I've seen him around while I been looking for partners in the public toilets)
2nd man: Ooh. You are bold. (You are too much)
The Rockingham was a rather piss-elegant club. It had tables and chairs and waiters, and its clientele was mostly elderly gentlemen of a military appearance whose partners were usually half their age and lisped 'cutely'. The Neptune on the other hand was sleazy and much more fun. It was dark and the music was loud. To the strains of (perhaps appropriately) Doris Day's 'Secret Love' and 'Such a Night' by Johnnie Ray, Gavin and I (and of course others around us we assumed) groped our way around the dance floor, even going to the extent of freeing our partner's cocks from the confines of its trousers how conventionally dressed we were in those days, all those buttons and pulling each other off, there and then. Sticky Fingers! The possibility of discovery of course making the activity all the more exciting.
There was a more social gathering at the 'King William' where young men met friends, not always with any particular intention of dragging off to bed though of course there was always the 'panic time' when, not having obtained a partner for the night, there was frantic activity to find someone. Gavin and I, having each other, looked on this frenzied behaviour with slightly cruel amusement.
We were of course not to know how soon we might be in the same position. We were young, we were sexually inexperienced and we knew very little about partnership, about sharing our lives, about the compromises that are necessary. Most of all temptation was all around us.
* * * * * *
Having Fun (Part 3)
But before all that happened, we went on holiday to north Wales, back to the village of Gavin's birth.
"You'll like it," said Gavin. "It's beautiful countryside."
"What will your parents think of me?" I asked. "Won't they think it odd?"
"You're just a friend," he said.
"Will we sleep together?"
Gavin looked shocked. It was the first time he'd ever contemplated us not being in the same bed. "We'll find somewhere."
"I'm sure we will," I said and groped him, enjoying the soft feel of his genitals in his trousers. He felt me. "Why do you always have an erection?" he asked. "I don't ever remember seeing you without a hard on."
"Are you complaining?" I asked.
We went by train of course; I didn't think my dear old Pandora's box (out of which came all the evils) would take us that far. She was already sounding grumpy even on short journeys and from time to time emitted smokey farts from her exhaust system. Thank goodness there was no MOT test in those days or we'd have been off the road. Gavin and I sat on opposite sides of the carriage and, after we'd become bored looking out of the window, we tried to give each other erections by staring at the other's groin, half hoping that the other passengers in the carriage it was full would notice.
Of course I always lost, so after a while Gavin decided to teach me Welsh. "They talk that in this part of Wales," he said.
"I'm not very good at languages," I said, thinking of my puerile failures at Latin, French and German at school.
"Just a few phrases," he said while he other passengers looked on indulgently. "Bore da that means good morning."
I repeated it as well as I could and Gavin laughed. A couple of the other passengers smiled. "Nos da," he said "Good night. That's the day over."
I managed these.
"Shwd ych chi? - How are you? And the answer. Iawn, diolch Fine thanks."
"I'll need new teeth for this." But we persevered.
Then some of the other passengers volunteered phrases and I gave up, except for "Diolch yn fawr Thank you very much," which I thought might be useful.
Everyone got out at Llandudno and, as they did so, Gavin said something in Welsh to them. A couple looked mystified, two more looked horrified and one, a middle-aged, pleasant looking man, smiled and said, "Good Luck."
"What did you say to them?" I asked.
Gavin put on his most innocent look. "I just told them we were on our honeymoon," he said.
"Diolch yn fawr," I said putting as much sarcasm as I could into the phrase, but I kissed him in the now-empty carriage.
A couple of stations and two bus journeys later, we reached the village where Gavin's parents lived. It was basically a long road lined with small workmen's houses made of dark stone, the roofs of black slate. It seemed that most of the village must have been gathered in the small front room, poised on the edges of chairs. crowded on the sofa, leaning against the walls and the pieces of Victorian furniture. An 'aunt' had apparently let us in and ushered us into the room. The hubbub of chattering stopped and all the faces turned to us.
"Bore da," I said hoping to make a good impression. Unfortunately it didn't seem to win over many hearts and minds but there was a shriek from one little old lady who dashed up to Gavin and started kissing him and talking away in Welsh. Nobody spoke to me. In fact the glances that were directed at me seemed full of suspicion, as if they knew I had corrupted their favourite son (rather than the other way round).
Eventually Gavin said, "Mam, this is Peter," and she was forced to acknowledge my presence. She did not though speak to me, just nodded and turned away.
"She's shy at speaking English, though she understands it well enough," he told me later.
I wasn't sure but I thought there was a conspiracy to keep Gavin and me separate or rather never to be allowed alone. I didn't sleep with Gavin in his house; rather I was 'farmed out' to an aunt who had a spare room but apparently no English. She fed me well for breakfast with fat bacon and eggs and sausages and fried bread. She offered me lava bread which is a sort of edible seaweed and which I tasted once and that was enough. To the rest I answered, "Diolch yn fawr," and this seemed to please her though I still felt an intruder.
When Gavin and I tried to go out to see the sights, there was always some relative, generally male and middle-aged who would accompany us and 'show us the way', though why Gavin, who had grown up here and knew the area like the back of his hand, couldn't show me around was never explained.
I put up with this treatment for three days, then, in a rare moment when we were left alone for a couple of moments between 'chaperones', told Gavin I could stand it no longer and wanted to return to London. He put up a token resistance but I think he was as fed up as I was. In fact I know he was as his performance showed when eventually we arrived home and were at last able to give vent to our feelings. So ended our 'honeymoon'.
Not that it was easy to 'escape'. I was there when Gavin announced that we were leaving. To be honest I don't think he'd have dared do it on his own. I suppose he thought that my presence might subdue the opposition but it was not to be. His Mam gave a great shriek of protest. There were always 'aunts' around or at least I assumed they were aunts, short, red-cheeked, buxom women in pinafores,always doing something culinary (probably preparing lava bread) and these joined in the remonstration. It was all done in voluble Welsh, of course until Gavin started in English, for my benefit? or perhaps to unnerve the family.
"Peter has to go to work the day after tomorrow," he lied.
Shocked into speaking English, Mam said, "Well, you can stay then, even if he has to go."
The aunts crowded round in a scrum, above whom Gavin's tall body towered. I wanted to rescue him but knew I couldn't plunge into the melee. Gavin reverted to Welsh and eventually everything calmed down. We were to catch the bus tomorrow morning. The women fetched me glances of pure hatred and I went out. He joined me after about five minutes and we slipped away.
It would have been a perfect Spring day. The sun was shining and the warmth was on our backs. The grass was green and there were golden buttercups in the fields.
"I'm sorry, Gavin," I said. "It's just that I see you all the time and I can't even touch you. And now I've upset all your relatives."
"It isn't you," he said. "They were just like this when I left first time with Rhys to go to London. I thought they'd be better now. Got used to it, sort of."
"And are we really leaving tomorrow?"
"Of course, but . . . I know a place where we can go now. There's an old barn up on the hill. No one ever goes there."
We turned off the main road, through a gate and started climbing. I put my arm round him and thought what we could soon be doing together. His body was hard but yielding into mine as we climbed together. My arm slipped down and I clasped his buttock.
But it was not to be. There was a shout from behind. "Gavin, bach," and a string of Welsh. An elderly man was struggling after us, too far back to see exactly what we were doing, but intent on accompanying us wherever it was that we were going.
A crow flapped morosely across the sky. Gavin sighed. "Tomorrow," he said, as we turned back.
And, though it felt that it never would, tomorrow came. The aunt I was staying with made me the breakfast. As I drank my second cup of tea in that warm room with the sun streaming through the windows she said in English, "We're sorry that you have to be going. We think you're a good friend of Gavin's."
I was amazed. Perhaps I'd got them all wrong. They didn't hate me. Maybe they were too shy to speak English.
"Diolch yn fawr," I said.
But it had been decided and we set off pursued by a gang of sad-looking relatives so that I felt somewhat guilty, but once the bus journeys were over and we were on the train and there was no chance that Gavin could be kidnapped and imprisoned in that mining village, I cheered up. This time we sat side by side and I could feel his warmth through my side and thigh and we whispered sweet nothings in each other's ears so that the other passengers couldn't hear.
Mam and the aunties had provided us with a packed lunch wrapped in paper and we spread this to hide our erections. They would have been appalled.
* * * * * *
Having Fun (Part 4)
It was all too good to last.
It may have been just that we had too much sex. We wore each other out. Gavin was almost right when he said that he never found me without an erection. He turned me on so much that I couldn't look at him (e.g. across the room at work) without feeling excited. If we touched in the slightest way, my cock shot up to attention. And of course we made love every night, at least once, if not twice or sometimes three times.
My mother, whom I visited from time to time was moved to ask whether I was feeling well. "You've got great circles under your eyes."
"Working too hard," I answered. But working at what? If only they knew.
"You need to take it easy," said my father.
"I do," I said, smiling to myself. "Very easily now." He gave me a puzzled look which I met with a frank, and hopefully innocent gaze.
But it was so marvellous. Social life was fun, clubs, pubs, blokes, blokes, blokes and all gay. Home with a lover who was always willing, sometimes tender, always ardent. Apart from sex, though, we had nothing in common. And of course we were always together, work, home, evening entertainment, Gavin was all I had - and all I ever wanted.
Who got fed up with whom in the beginning I don't know. We had rows, of course, about trivial things and always made up in bed (or, to be honest, over the kitchen table, on the floor in front of the fire, on sunny afternoons on the Heath, or wherever). But I don't think we ever talked, not really talked, because we didn't have anything to talk about.
And it was then, I suppose, in 1954 some time, that I met John Barnes. He was a pleasant guy with a thin face and large ears that stood out from the sides of his head. His hair was cut short which emphasised them. I wasn't the least bit sexually attracted to him, nor, as far as I know, was he to me.
But we did talk. How we talked. On serious subjects. God, the universe, science (John had studied sciences at school. Though my knowledge was minimal, it did not stop me arguing), ethics, morality, homosexuality, the future or not of mankind the sorts of subjects about which Gavin would have raised his eyebrows to Heaven. Not that Gavin was unintelligent; he was just not interested. Like me, for a time, the fun life was all that attracted him and, of course, our sex life was just as intense. John would have made an excellent ascetic monk, had he believed in God.
Though I might have talked all evening with John and sometimes did I always went home with Gavin and fell into bed with him. Unfortunately this didn't stop us arguing, or, I suppose, him being jealous. Though I assured him, time and time again, that there was nothing like that between John and me, he swore I was having it off with him when could I possibly have had the time or opportunity even if I'd wanted to?
"I don't know what you see in him," said Gavin
"He's interesting to talk to," I said.
"Aren't I interesting?" said Gavin, pouting.
"You're beautiful," I said, kissing him on his lips or attempting to because he turned his face away.
"He's ugly and his ears stick out."
"You're beautiful," I repeated, "and your bum sticks out, and I love it."
"That's all you're after. You're only interested in fucking."
"You can fuck me," I said. "In fact I want you to fuck me."
"That's what I said, you're only interested in fucking, me or you." He turned and went over to the bed sitting on the edge.
I decided that that was a good sign, so I went after him. Again he turned his head away. I kissed his neck, nuzzling the base where his collar bone made a dip. I kissed his ear, nibbling the lobe then poking my tongue in and licking the inside. He shivered and turned his face towards me so that I was able to reach his lips. I tried to penetrate with my tongue but he wasn't yet to be conquered and he kept his mouth shut. I pulled him back onto the bed and tickled him around the waist. He opened his mouth in protest and my tongue was in. He tasted of sweet wine which he had been drinking.
He lay on his back and I put my leg over him so that he was held there. His struggling body against my groin made me hard and I pressed myself against him knowing he couldn't resist. I heard him groan and felt an answering hardness. This was what I wanted it to be. This is what I'd always wanted. Why couldn't I be satisfied with Gavin and our love? As he responded I told myself I wouldn't jeopardise this for something which wasn't important. I didn't want to think about it' all I wanted was to feel: his hands, his lips, his body, his skin, his cock, now pressed against me and soon, I knew, pushed into me so that we would become one, joined at that central point. But I knew that afterwards those moments of passion would not be enough. Now, locked in an embrace it was the be-all and end-all of everything. Afterwards it was just another fuck, and a mess to clear up.
John, though was mentally stimulating. If only it would have been possible to have both. Was this what Plato was talking about in his allegory of the charioteer and his two horses? When first reading Mary Renault's book, I had opted out of frustrated desire for the black horse. Now perhaps I understood the wisdom of harnessing the both.
I think it was Rhys and Arnold who actually brought about the break-up. Gavin of course talked to them and no doubt told them what he believed, that I was having an affair with John. They never mentioned it to me but I noticed their attitude changed. They were cold and unwelcoming. They tried to exclude me from 'outings' to which they asked Gavin, which just meant that I would go somewhere with John.
And then - and then - well, I know I had upset Gavin by becoming friendly with john, and that he suspected I was doing more with him than I actually was - or ever did - but Gavin did the unthinkable. He'd gone out with Rhys and Arnold to some club one evening. Of course I was included - though not very enthusiastically by Rhys and Arnold, but I felt tired. I just preferred to stay in, read a book, listen to the wireless - we didn't have television in those days though it was around of course.
I didn't even see John and went to bed early. I awoke in the middle of the night. In fact it was nearly morning, 5.30 or so, and no warm body next to me. It was probably his coming in that must have awakened me for he crept in just as I'd turned the light off again. I didn't speak, pretended to be asleep but heard the stealthy sounds of his undressing and then felt the weight as he got into bed.
He didn't though cuddle up to me as he normally would and I smelled on him the unmistakable traces of someone else, together with the smell of sex. I said nothing but I was in fact devastated, feeling a cold knot of despair inside me. I hadn't thought that we'd break up, go looking for pleasure elsewhere. We'd had differences - what couple doesn't? But I always thought his reaction to John and myself was something minor, something he'd get over when he realised there was nothing physical between us. I thought that the bonds which held Gavin and myself together were stronger than minor differences.
In the morning, Sunday and of course no work, I faced him with it. I didn't intend it to be a screaming match and of course it wasn't. But I was dreadfully hurt when he admitted that he'd met someone in the club, gone back with him and had sex - not, thank goodness, made love - but just had sex.
Could we have got over this? I don't know. It might have been possible, but, as I said before, we were too young, in experience if not in age, not to know that keeping a partnership together needs a lot of give and take, understanding and forgiveness. Had Gavin expressed his regret, then I might have forgiven him, but he didn't and I let it rankle. He could go off like that with some pickup, fuck or be fucked, if that's what they did, and then obviously feel no guilt - that was too hard to bear.
I had no intention of using this escapade as an excuse for my own sleeping around, but when it happened again - his going out with Rhys and Arnold and my staying at home, I decided to go to the William IV and there met Jofn. We talked, as we always did and, at the end of the evening, I went back to his bet-sit for a cup of tea or cocoa or something. It was late; I was tired. He suggested that I stay over and we slept in the same bed, doing no more than just holding each other - he was in fact rather bony and not at all comfortable. There was no sex. I don't think we even kissed, though there might have been a brief brushing of the lips as we said good night. No excesses disturbed the night and I went home in the morning to find that Gavin wasn't there. He hadn't even bothered to come home at all.
Arnold though saw my return and no doubt related the time to Gavin when he he did come back, unrepentant, almost triumphant, I think.
And so we grew apart, Gavin and I.
With loss sometimes comes hatred but I did not hate Gavin. In fact sometimes, as I sat across from him I still felt love for him and I felt a desperate sadness for the distance that had grown up between us, this need, apparently, for others, his sexual, mine mental. I knew we could not go on living together much longer. We took to going our separate ways.
One evening I came home, not particularly late and found him in bed with a young man, pleasant featured, who stared up at me from the bed.
Gavin laughed. "Come in, Peter, there's room for another, and, without shame I shed my clothes and got in with them. It was the first time I'd had sex with two others and I found it a little unsatisfying. It was exciting as our bodies curled around each other but it wasn't giving anything to each other. We sucked and humped but it was purely physical. There was no concentration of emotion on one person, even on one person's part when there was another to turn round to and attend to.
I think it was that episode that decided me I had to leave.
A room fell vacant in the house where John lived. A young man went to explore the Arctic or somewhere, and I moved in. Again, apart from friendship, there was nothing between John and me.
I saw Gavin around of course but that part of my life was over.
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Date started: Saturday, October 22nd, 2005
Date Finished: Thursday, December 8, 2005