Woke up at 4am. Bugger. Spent a little time online then went back to bed. Fell into deep sleep.
A knock at the door at 9am. I had meeting with a writer from a popular TV show who had read my blog and wanted to meet to talk about her new TV show. Kathy.
A charming and funny woman who is currently dating a very beautiful ‘A’ gay director friend of mine. What a gorgeous couple! The meeting was meant to last an hour but ended up lasting 3 hours. Ashley joined us at the end.
Whilst we were talking I remembered one of the fabulous Whitstable gays I met as a child who totally shaped my idea of what it was to be gay.
Firstly, he taught me that being gay could be WONDERFUL. That man, an antique dealer from Thanet, was called Christopher Stocking. He drove into Whitstable weekly to search for antiques and that’s where he found me, sitting at the back of Zoe’s antique shop one cold winter’s afternoon playing with her kittens by the fire.
The shop used to be on Harbour Street opposite the harbour entrance which was rather sadly demolished in the 1970’s when all that grubby Georgian architecture seemed to bore town planners. Thankfully, Whitstable was largely ignored by Canterbury Council so there was little to no ‘urban regeneration’. No wholesale destruction of our old homes and shops. Whitstable was left to decay. Thank God.
Jake and I went to Whitstable…he loved it…that was a nice moment.
Anyway, Christopher Stocking found me in the back of the shop and realized IMMEDIATELY that I was a trainee homo and took me for a spin in his pink Jaguar. I remember his sweet and unusual smell. He asked a bunch of questions and I remember being so ashamed of where I came from that I think I lied every answer.
I really looked forward to Christopher’s weekly visits. He taught me what was what without ever mentioning the word gay.
He’d say, “He’s gorgeous isn’t he?”
And I would get all red-faced and nod my head.
He was a perfect role model…consequently I never had any difficulty being a gay.
It all seemed perfectly natural.
A couple of years after we met Christopher told me that he wanted to tell me something. Seriously. We sat in the Tudor Tea Rooms, he held my hand and told me very gravely that if I was going to have a good life, any life..he stressed the word life..I would have to leave Whitstable. That this small seaside town wasn’t going to be big enough for me.
He told me urgently,
“You have to get out of here and make something of yourself.”
I knew that he was right but I didn’t think it was possible, plausible…mine to have.
Heroes are never quite who you expect them to be.
A man and a boy holding hands in an English Tea Room talking about the future. About the future. He was saving my life..and he knew it. He knew that there was no one else in that place who could possibly tell me what I needed to know.
That my life could be assured if I left Whitstable. That I would be valued, validated, loved. Sadly, his dream and my dream for enduring happiness diverged as I grew older.
The disease of more. Who could have foreseen that outcome?
For those of you who think bad thoughts..no..we never did anything inappropriate. He was a very appropriate man. I was 10 when I met him and 14 when he vanished. If he had made a move would I have let him? You betcha.
That afternoon in The Tudor Tea Room I saw my future reflected in his face and knew instinctively that it was essential for me to listen very carefully and remember every word he said.
Amongst the shop owners there were other gays. There were the gay twins who ran the antique shop on the corner of Albert Street and Harbour Street which is now an elegant tapas bar. Johnny and Jimmy. Clones: checked shirts, full moustaches and tight denim jeans. They scared me a bit but they were kind to me.
They guessed, they knew, they never made mention, they saw the bruises, they held out their hands just in case I needed to hold on.
The years passed.
For a few weeks I moved in with Michael the gay tax man.
Our local gay bar: The Guinea on Island Wall. Florence, the very grand landlady, was always throwing people out for no good reason. She had thick red lipstick on her lips and teeth…a crow black bouffant.
When the boys got too hot and bothered in the snug she snarled, “Darlin’ you’re barred.”
The kissing boys would feign outrage, throw their scarves over their shoulders, theatrically deliver a particularly vicious bon mot from the threshold of the pub, slam the door and scamper out into the night..until tomorrow of course when they would sit in exactly the same spot nursing pints of thick, warm beer and kiss each other as Florence was serving out of sight.
I remember when you could be thrown out of a bar, a gay bar, for kissing another man.
So, this morning, Kathy and I talked about gay men and the community. Our community that existed around the bar. Every community has a bar. THE BAR.
When the Guinea closed we headed to The New Inn, Margate. I didn’t drive and God knows how I did it but I got there and back 30 miles every Saturday night. Compelled by the need to meet other gay men.
I rarely went home with anyone. They were all so pig ugly. When the pub closed at 11.30 my very camp friend Mark and I went to a ghastly Margate club which was always half empty..called Skids. Ew.
The men there knew I was different from them. Somehow. They urged me, like Christopher had years before, to take my big ideas elsewhere. In their own way they let me know how much more of a world there was than the one I had chanced upon in Margate.
We talked about being bullied and I told her that I was bullied at school and life was pretty miserable for a few years but I just knew that high school was not the sum of my life. I knew that Christopher and men like him were out there somewhere. That I could and would be like them.
I knew that my time at boarding school would eventually come to an end. Anyway, as I mentioned before..bullied by day, blowing by night. Usually the same boys.
All these bullied kids killing themselves. I know it’s hard to be singled out to be gay by your peers, but you can’t be so sensitive. Get tough! Fight back. Ask for help! The sad fact is, when I was being bullied I rather enjoyed the attention. I learned to fight back. Ruthlessly. I knew the people who bullied me were simply appalled by my difference. It scared the shit out of them. I learned that to be different you had to seek out your own kind.
I have searched and searched.
So…I went to Paris and New York and I ended up here.
Thank you Christopher Stocking..wherever you are.
I owe you my wonderful life…when I can remember that it is wonderful. I owe you my Malibu view. I owe you my aspirations. Thank you Christopher, thank you the boys..thank you the girls..where ever you are…thank you for reading…thank you and good night.