My aversion to football has deep roots.
A macho mentality takes me back to grim days in the 1950s when my father was ashamed and loathed the son who was not a ‘proper son’ because I hated the Beautiful Game and could not defend myself with bare knuckles in the playground. Sound bites spat out in pit talk are forever seared into my psyche -
‘What sort ‘o lad ‘ave we got! Aye [he] can’t kick a ball.’
Outdated values of character building were supposed to turn you into a man. Dad threatened me with National Service which will ‘knock the softness out of you.’
I missed British conscription by months and narrowly escaped Vietnam admitting to being a ‘degenerate’ when located in Detroit in the 1960s.
Dad said -
‘Aye’s [he’s] no good at oat. Aye can’t knock back a pint and can’t fancy a lass.’
In 2017, Neil Bleasley, a gay football player wrote Football’s Coming Out. He often heard homophobic abuse. Unlike racism which has been reduced, vile and disgusting sexual homophobic comments are rarely challenged.
Neil’s book is realistic, but also optimistic in that slow progress is being made. KICK OUT HOMOPHOBIA was a growing movement supported by some of the country’s biggest football clubs.
Football, weaponised against me by others, imprinted a mindset: I am homosexual and hate soccer, therefore, all gay boys will despise the so-called beautiful game.
Many decades on, that statement has to be challenged and re-evaluated. After years of activism, I have been astonished meeting LGBTs who actually like football!
Since 2006, Terry and I have displayed on our fridge door a post card of seven sexy Ball Bois - gay friendly smiling members of their Nottingham football club:
Bois - a similar word to ‘boys’ - is a contraction of boisterous meaning rough, noisy exuberant boys. Many gay men find this an attractive way to present a gay and gay friendly team of players.
Their ethos is to provide a welcoming environment for anybody to play at any level without fear of prejudice, abuse or ridicule.
In my fearful repressed years at Mundy Street Boys School 1957 in Heanor, I would have considered a homosexual footballer to be an impossibility. It reminds me of the American cliché - Indians for Custer.
Six decades on we now have a partnership between the charitable arm of Derby County FC and Derbyshire LGBT+
The original Nottingham Ball Bois FC have changed their name to NOTTINGHAM LIONS FC:
Printed in the Derby Telegraph, October 10th, 2017
Fan learnt the hard way that vile chants are wrong
I punched the air; cheered loud and long when Jason Holmes a Leicester City football fan was arrested for shouting homophobic abuse at Brighton supporters. This was in August at the King Power Stadium. The CPS authorised a charge of indecent chanting. At Leicester Magistrates court, he pleaded guilty and was fined £300, increased by £30 due the homophobic nature of the offence classed as a hate crime. He was ordered to pay costs of £85.
We’ve been here before. On October 9th, 2013, the Derby Telegraph printed my letter ‘We’ve waited too long for this splendid justice’ when brothers Shane and Daniel Davies were fined and banned from football matches for three years for shouting homophobic chants at Brighton fans during a Derby County away game.
Following decades of suffering, the LGBT community had waited too long to witness this splendid justice. My letter triggered a scathing response from Colin Clark ‘Letter shows whinger Narvel in his true light,’ followed by a deluge of personal abuse on the Derby Telegraph website.
Regarding the writing of letters to challenge gay hate, we should continue to write more of them. I take inspiration from the words of Ed Murrow when he spoke of Churchill -
‘He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.’
Four years on, I would not expect any reduction of profound vitriolic ignorance from Mr Clark or the bigoted army of anonymous trolls who supported him. However, to his credit; Mr Holmes volunteered to attend an LGBT education session provided by Kick It Out, the campaign against discrimination in football.
I call that progress.
Between 1963 and 1976, I returned to the UK each summer for an annual holiday for as many weeks as I could afford. In 1965 I’d been away from my beloved Derbyshire for over 18 months and returned to a quaint world redolent with childhood nostalgia - smells, sounds and sights of scruffy folks crowded into quirky picturesque nooks and crannies such as Ripley Market Place.
It was intriguing to enjoy this thrilling reunion with early boyhood days. After a sterile existence in a well-scrubbed United States, I was fascinated by the friendliness of crooked oddities who constantly addressed each other as ‘duck’ - pronouncing it ‘dook’.
The colliery cultural accent is thick and rich. When Ripley folk say 'duck' (which they often say) it sounds like 'dook'.
Detroit offered nothing like the variety of odd bods interbred over generations from mining stock. I had arrived in a fairytale world of curiosities resembling toads, goblins and gnomes, more medieval than 20th century clean-cut American youth, more Grimm than US glitz and glamour.
Here the crooked coal encrusted indigenousness seemed to be older, uglier and have more character making them all much more interesting.
Wandering around Ripley Market pondering these quirky contrasts, I came on one stall which specialised in sweets, chocolates and all manner of confectionary in a cacophony of trivial chatter.
‘Umbug?’ [humbug] said the man behind the counter. ‘Tuppence, duck.’
‘Arr [our] Fred wants it, you know,’ replied his customer, ‘no teeth, but he can still suck. Thanks, duck. How’s ya mam?’
‘Bit better today, duck. It’s a fortnight since she took bad.
‘Ooo, duck. An you we no ‘ands! A think you’re a brick, duck.’
This was a magical experience, made all the more magical observing this common place exchange dominated by the one word ‘duck’. The old woman’s nose seemed to meet her chin giving a witch-like appearance.
Her cackling inappropriate comments highlighting a serious disability made a contrast to the stallholder (with no hands) whose cushy caring voice seemed to blend with a downy personality.
This ductile chap (known only as Duck) made an immediate impression on me. Somehow it made me feel safe and secure. Conceived in this moment was a lifelong friendship with plump, cosy Duck who was always kind and considerate.
Duck transported me to the child I once was when I explored the River Gardens in Belper. It was a delight of glades, rock formations, alcoves, islets, avenues and terraces.
I enjoyed the contrasts between the open promenade, lovers’ walk, the fish pond, the fountain bordered by special nooks and crannies.
Here, the imagination could run riot. There were rocks picturesque and rocks grotesque. In an ecstasy of exploration, hunting out hidden glades with deep spongy moss growing on damp boulders; I imagined stories about ‘little people’ - the fairies.
Bright sunlight became dazzling bright green when reflected off the ubiquitous fern. Such unusual illuminations complemented various dank corners and black caves.
Little Narvel was told that if he had enough faith, if he tried hard enough, if he believed in the spirits of nature, if he was lucky enough - he might just get a glimpse of elementals in human form. The small boy was very happy. He recalled the warmth of the sun, the cool of the shade, the light and the dark, the scent of wild garlic and the music of birdsong.
I never saw fairies, but Duck was real enough and we became lifelong friends.
Duck projected warmth, oodles of affection within a halo of safe snug comfort. He was totally free from any pretentiousness and you felt you had known him all your life. Not well educated, in many ways a simple man, but Duck was a good listener. You could confide all your secrets.
We were both teenagers but he was old-fashioned, looking and acting much older. He was comfortable talking about his baby arms ending in stumps. He mentioned that he was born with one leg, but walked quite well with a prosthetic limb. Naturally this disability curtailed his social activities.
Duck was just one of the several curious characters of Derbyshire - goblins, hags, crones, gnomes, fairies, toads and other oddities. When writing Lost Lad, he and his mother gave permission to appear as characters in the novel and were delighted with the result as it appeared on pages 187 to 190.
He was a regular visitor to Blackpool. Blackpool could be garish, cheap, tacky and tatty. This glittering and cheerful resort of the North West held my affection. As a child, various half remembered carers had brought me to sample the thrills and spills of the Pleasure Beach.
They walked my little legs along the promenade full of shrieks of joy, jammed with the working-class at play, jammed with amusements, ghost trains, shooting galleries, dancing girls, palmists, vulgar postcards and the salty smell of jellied eels.
Duck suggested we meet at the local pictures - the Ripley Hippodrome. Something of a flea pit.
Eventually, I was invited back to Meet Mrs Duck at the Duckery around the corner from Ripley Market Place. It was just Duck and Mrs Duck, no Mr Duck. Occasionally, they were visited by a robin which hopped on to the window sill. Duck said -
'Ey oop, Arr [our] Mam, look - it's me dad, it's me dad coom back.'
I was encouraged to visit anytime. You just walked in. I saw two large eggs. These eggs with faces were deeply reposing into a cosy sofa and had formed the impression they’d been sitting there forever.
Each face wore a smile of welcome. Both fat faces were devoid of a single wrinkle which caused the visitor to wonder about the age of mother. Over the long years of friendship, Duck never changed. He had always looked the same. He was just ... Duck.
The 'Mam' egg cocked up her legs which could not quite reach the floor and spoke first.
‘Eee it is nice ta see thee, dook. Are ya all right then, dook?’
The Duck egg appeared to do a quick funny wriggle with dancing shoulders.
‘Shall ya ave a coop a tea, dook? Put kettle on, Arr Mam.’
‘No, Dook. Ave joost sat down. You put kettle Arr Dook.’
‘All right, Arr Mam, I'll put kettle on.’
‘You've made it really nice in here,’ I said. ‘So very cosy and comfortable.’
The Duckery was fixed somewhere inside a time warp, in this case possibly mid 1930's. Cosy and comfortable were apt terms here. Everything was soft and cushy.
The conversation in this room was all ductility, well matched to the occupants, mild and downy. It became a favourite place. In this old-fashioned feathery room, I felt cushioned from the hard knocks of life. Nothing nasty or hurtful ever came from Duck, friendly podgy Duck, ever mellow and mellifluous.
At worst, on the occasions in which he did criticise, he would begin with his characteristic wiggle, dancing shoulders and the one word - 'Meself'.
Regarding the subject of corner shop keeper Annie Oaks and her pricing policy -
‘Meself, a think she's a bit dear. Don't ya think so, Arr Mam.’
‘She is, Arr Duck! Them eggs were five pence cheaper int' town. She teks advantage. She knows a can't walk far.’
The conversation continued to touch on similar inanities which included the thoughtless Vivienne whose bouncing ball often annoyed 'Arr Mam', a dripping tap which Fred the neighbourly fixer had promised to fix last month and an unpleasant character in a popular 'soap' who was -
‘Nasty! Really nasty. No need ta be like that. It's oopset Arr Dook?’
These trifles amused. Concerns about a person on television who does not exist and an endless stream of minutia had a soporific effect. The Ducks were warm and generous, non-contentious and undemanding. The quaint chatter was balmy and mildly entertaining. I was always happy in The Duckery.
Both long dead now, but I still become emotional every time I walk past The Duckery just around the corner near Ripley Market Place.
Jasper was an intriguing character, like others, first met in 1965. He lived in a simple stone cottage in Belper situated up a rough track under a raucous rookery of constantly screaming crows from the crown of tall trees.
It was wonderful material for my novels: an ugly hunchback with deep set leering fish-eyes eyes behind a large beak nose. Think of the old hag in Disney’s Snow White - and you have Jasper.
In the late 1800s, he was one of the shadowy workers who emptied large buckets of ‘jollop’ into filthy carts during the hours of darkness.
The team leader was known as Smelly Sam who worked with Dirty Don and the night-soil horse - Wiffy Willy.
Jasper was an undersized ragamuffin known as the limey-lad. His job was to walk ahead of the cart with a naked flame torch and spread lime over any spillages to get rid o’ stink.’
The invention of Thomas Crapper’s water closet eventually had a bad effect on the night-soil business. As the 20th century dawned, even working people were increasingly unwilling to suffer a trudge up the garden, in the dark, in all weathers, to a stinking privy.
The jollop eventually dried and compacted down to a kind of soil – hence the term night-soil. In Derbyshire, night-soil men were known as Honey Dumpers. Conversations with hideous old Jasper was an education!
In that same six-month cycling holiday 58 years back, I came across an amusing rotundity called Dolly who first introduced me to Jasper.
Dolly enjoyed teaching chickens about queer life and took me on a tour of old lavatories notorious for loose bricks which could be conveniently removed.
He told me a horror story about a hideously deformed old man who sat, for hours, in a crumbling old cottage – gay parlance for a public toilet.
‘He’s like a ghastly spider,’ said Dolly, articulating carefully with round vowels through flabby fleshy cheeks. ‘He’s humped and bent, patiently waiting for prey.’
In a colliery town, we turned into an ill-lit alley. Dolly urged me on with promises of pleasure at the entrance of a primordial gentleman's lavatory.
He guided me past a ghostly outline of several dark, silent figures lined up at the urinal. There were three WC cubicles. The first two were closed and occupied. In the faint amber light available, it could just be seen that the door of the last one was ajar several inches.
Gently, Dolly urged his young friend forward, placing him in front of that partly open door and gave it a soft push.
My eyes strained to adjust to the darker gloom of that cave-like entrance, to penetrate, to pierce the dismal depths, to discern, to make sense of that strange crooked shape within.
In that silent moment, there came to the ear, a short sound - a sort of 'click'.
‘Did you hear that?’ whispered Dolly. ‘Lucky boy! The click of a crone. It's the prelude to pleasure,’ sighed the little fat man in soft, round vowels.
‘Advance! Yield! Offer yourself to this master of the extended orgasm, give yourself - and know true bliss,’ he lisped rather theatrically into the youthful ear.
But an instinct told me to stand my ground. I felt grateful for the protection of strong, form-hugging blue jeans and had high expectations with regard to the choice of a sexual partner.
I was not yet accustomed to quick removal of false teeth in connection with casual oral sex. After two years in the USA, I expected sex with boys my own age.
Having returned to the Derbyshire coal fields, I conceived a romantic inclination and dreamed of meeting strong, masculine boys who had a full set of beautiful white natural teeth.
On this tour, I was hoping Dolly would push me into the arms of a strapping young footballer of firm straight body, a footballer with no hump. Or, alternatively, a virile coal miner of rough manners who would not be too gentle and might 'bend me over t' bog'.
Alas, this particular bog was not inhabited by a footballer, a miner or even a minor. There was a man in that bog, but not the man I would have chosen.
It started with two points of reflected lecherous amber light, gleaming with lewd intent which, as my eyes continued to adjust, eventually revealed two grizzled leering eyes - horrible to behold. These deep, salacious sockets were set behind a rough-hewn beak of a nose, thrust forward, bent forward in eager anticipation of the juicy morsel at hand.
Out of a drooling slash of toothless mouth emerged a snake of oscillating tongue, inviting, beckoning, urging its prey to enter, to be caressed, stroked, slurped and finally drained with oodles of Jurassic slobber.
I wanted a real man, as butch as a brick. Everything about the Belper Crone was womanly. He was an effeminate ugly old queen! It was all too much. The dark, the damp, the sudden horror of being confronted by that grotesque goblin who dwelt within his murky cavern.
It caused a sudden panic! I fled that toilet as if the very devil were at my heels. This quick exit alarmed other loiterers who quickly departed.
Jasper the one-time limey lad had aged into something like the old hag in Snow White.
‘Mummy dust had made him old. Cackle of crone and scream of fright had greyed his hair.’
Dolly was disappointed and a touch annoyed by my panic stressing that he had warned me about an old crone, humped and bent, patiently waiting for prey – who would receive ecstatic pleasure from a toothless hag.
He also reminded me that, some years before in my preteens, I’d been imprinted with orgiastic rapture in the carnal kitchen of Guzzly Granddad in Heanor.
Dolly was right! Nevertheless, I argued that Granddad was an old rough butch coal miner, quite different to a repellent monstrosity.
As a compromise, I agreed to be chauffeured to that primitive stone cottage under the raucous rookery of screaming crows and apologise to old Jasper.
Best thing I did! Dolly and I enjoyed tea and cakes with a friendly and charming oddity being transported back to a quaint quieter Belper which was, even in 1965, long forgotten.
I also offered myself to the master of the extended orgasm and experienced - true bliss.
In other words, I heard - the click of a crone …
I’m grateful to the Editor of QB Magazine - David Edgley for making our event so very special on Wednesday, November 8th.
Generously, he entertained, amused and interested us with a splendid presentation called -
A guide to strange places, a tour of places of gay interest in Nottinghamshire
We listened and watched with fascination as he led us through the decades of our own familiar history – faces we recognised and venues we have visited bringing back so many emotional memories.
As usual, the meeting went well with Terry’s delicious sandwiches, Alan’s help with the drinks and kind contributions from Iain and James – but, the big event was those memories made live by David’s tour de force.
The venerable Shirley Macredie died in 2018 but appeared on the big screen in our living room several times. Shirley made enormous contributions to the quality of life for those of us who share same-sex attraction in Nottingham and Worksop.
Equally honoured was Ross Smith with photographs of him at La Chic Part Two on Canal Street which he opened as the new manager in 1981. The original La Chic lasted from 1973 to 1977.
From the mid-1960s to about 1970, I was taken under the wing of Ted Barlow and David Betts the well-known Barbets. I recall sitting in their open top sports car on a hot August evening in 1966 being driven through Nottingham City Centre past all the main gay pubs. We were raucously festive; shouting yoo-hoo waving like mad at goggle-eyed outdoor drinkers.
Sadly (or perhaps not so sad) David Edgley was not there to photograph this outrageous event, but Ross Smith and I discussed my Barbet days at a lavish party at Walton’s Hotel in 2011 to celebrate Ted’s 80th birthday.
We joked about the Barbets being a common link and historic gay gossip on the lines of –
‘Oh, haven’t you heard? Narvel is out of favour! Ross Smith is all the rage now!’
Chickenhood has a short shelf life.
David Edgley did include photographs of a very important Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage event in February 2009. We all assembled on the top floor of Nottingham’s Waterstones when, very kindly, he invited me to speak as the Guest of Honour.
Above are three photographs of Narvel from the "View from the Top", a gallery above Waterstones Bookshop, Nottingham from 2009. This was part of Nottinghamshire's Rainbow Heritage's Exhibitions, and photographs provided to the Our Nottinghamshire website (www.ournottinghamshire.org.uk) by David Edgley.
I ended up chatting to a real LGBT celebrity with impressive qualifications. He was the late Tony Fenwick of Schools OUT. Tony had been eloquent and articulate the previous Sunday defending the gay cause on National BBC TV in the Big Question programme.
David showed us a photograph of several people trapped in the Waterstone’s lift! It was quite a squeeze but they were eventually rescued.
All in all, a memorable evening.
Alas, David’s tour through the decades took us to some dark places.
There was a grim time when the local papers were full of John and Billy.
John Clarkson and his boyfriend Bill were sent to prison after Nottingham police found a Christmas card signed -
“To Billy, with all my love, as ever - John”.
John was bullied into admitting that he had slept with Billy. Held separately at the police station, each was told that the other one had confessed to an act of gross indecency. In other words, they both gave statements incriminating each other.
A trial took place at Nottingham Crown Court, a humiliating trial which involved ushers holding up bed sheets and a clerk pointing out stains to the jury.
A jar of Vaseline was passed around. Jurors were told to notice a few pubic hairs. Words like disgust, perverts, slimy, degenerate, vile and abomination - appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post. A profoundly depressing story.
David Edgley and I are of a similar age; what is not similar are the periods of our activism in combatting homophobia. In the 1960s, I was living in Detroit keeping my head down in dread of being outed as a homosexual.
In contrast, David was openly striving with groups like the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) laying the foundation for others to build a better future. We saw pictures of his early leaflets which developed into the excellent Queer Bulletin magazine and his outstanding efforts creating Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage and launching the Gay Switchboard.
It has not always been easy leading and encouraging David’s team. In the face of ignorance and bigotry, there were many setbacks well illustrated and explained in his talk, but David fights on as he has done for 56 years.
It took me decades to find the courage to reveal to the world my true self. Lost Lad published in 2003 was my first openly gay novel – effectively outing myself years after David took his first brave step.
Since he first published a prominent review of Scruffy Chicken in 2006 in QB, David has never failed to encourage me with strong support.
Again, I express my sincere thanks for honouring us with his presence at our home on November 8th.
I’ll always associate Claud Hoadley and his side kick Hilary Raymond Hawley with a dark and fusty public bar at the Friary Hotel, Friar Gate in Derby.
Like other quirky characters in this series, they are based on real people I met in 1965 and appear in Scruffy Chicken.
The very fabric of ancient drapes, worn carpets and leather chairs seemed to have absorbed a century of snobbery emanating from snooty, stuffy old men in dingy suits. I was privileged to be a witness to the end of a long era of gay history.
Before the end of that decade, dramatic changes would herald the new gay era. 'The scene' would be born. The advent of 'the disco', new openly gay pubs and clubs would appear.
But in the face of soft silence, fading grandeur, there was a power structure of sneering disciples housing a temple of theatrical affectation. In the Friary Hotel of 1965, the aforementioned innovations were unthinkable.
Soft silence and darkness. The darkness receded as the eyes adjusted to dim lighting revealing a large Georgian emptiness, empty except for a group of shadowy grey gentlemen standing near the bar. Silence receded when I gradually discerned a low murmur of ornate voices in conversation.
I approached the gathering, apparently without being noticed, but, every single person noticed the inappropriately dressed teenager.
A slightly stocky man wearing an aristocratic sneer on his aquiline profile held the floor. It was a handsome face, yet I was utterly repelled by an artificial slimy drawl in which words were exhaled in a breathy whisper.
Hilary Raymond Hawley was HRH to bitchy members of the gay community. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of royal families, past and present, English and European - all the royal highnesses and all the serene highnesses fascinated him.
Hawley seemed to punctuate his narrative with a frequent, forced laugh, a nauseating wheeze which accentuated the aristocratic sneer.
All eyes, ever looking for approval, were on the Top Man - Claud Hoadley.
First impressions seemed to indicate an older man, a tall man of indeterminate age, wearing a slight smile perhaps not quite as repellent as the sneer of his deputy.
The most striking aspect of Claud Hoadley was his posture. Possibly this gave him that indefinable air of authority. Hoadley was bolt upright, straight as a pole - always.
To this stern schoolmaster, slouching was a sin. In that room, every person appeared to be affected, standing at attention, in dread of reprimand which might shoot out like a whiplash.
‘Straighten up there boy! How dare you loll in front of me! Such disrespectful drooping is indicative of an indolent and disorderly mind’.
An independent observer would have assessed his age at mid-fifties, more than a decade short of his actual mid-sixties. The same observer would have described sharp, handsome, clear-cut features but the more perceptive might notice shrewd, cold, grey eyes and cruel lips.
Even in a group of quality suits in poor light, Hoadley's suit was distinguished by its superb cut. He was the very essence of good taste and excellent grooming, from the top of his perfectly combed hair down to his highly polished, expensive shoes.
Everything about Claud Hoadley was correct and those around him seemed to be anxious to approach the high standards which he had set. Like so many before, I was very impressed and even more impressed when the paragon broke into speech. The conversation had turned to an absentee who had just obtained his Ph.D.
‘I suppose we shall have to call him Dr Fisher now,’ laughed a man with a sickly grin.
‘It's unlikely we need be quite so formal,’ replied Hoadley, nonchalantly, as he carefully removed a tiny speck from his immaculate sleeve. ‘After all, it is a degree in engineering and from a university which can hardly command our full esteem.’
This resulted in an eager row of nodding heads, each wearing a simpering smile, each uttering disparaging, sardonic murmurs. Dr Fisher was an infrequent attender at The Friary and could only be considered an 'associate' member of this elite group.
If he had read the classics from Oxford University instead of Sheffield University, the good name of Dr Fisher might have been treated with more respect.
Nevertheless, Britain's rapid decline as a major industrial power and the significance of a comment which belittled the practical subject of engineering at a northern university, entirely escaped me in awe of an extraordinary accent.
Hawley’s cut-glass diction had been impressive, but Hoadley’s orgy of enunciation and lavish articulation – hit my Derbyshire ear like a thunderbolt.
Two words in particular were drawn out with striking embellishment: 'after' became very southern, sounding like arrrrfter and 'command' was elongated to commarrrrnd.
Mr Hoadley was now in full flow, denouncing The Beatles who had just been awarded the MBE.
‘It was an honour we should all aspire to. But what can we expect from a Labour Prime Minister? Outrageous! Utterly, utterly outrageous. That Canadian Member of Parliament ... what was his name?"
‘Hector Dupuis,’ said Hilary Raymond Hawley helpfully.
‘Oh yes. That man is quite right. They are vulgar nincompoops. Mr Dupuis has been cheapened, a gentleman of his position!’ He spat out the next sentence with gathering fury. ‘That poor gentleman has been debased down to the level of common, caterwauling, working-class ruffians. I applaud his action. I would certainly have returned my insignia of the Order back to the Palace.’ All heads nodded with approval.
I listened to this polemic with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I resented the attack on popular music but, could not help being impressed by the majesty of the open 'u' which, in Hoadley's Royal diction, had been opened out to breaking point.
I’d been forced to improve my speech to make it intelligible to the Americans. I was now sounding the 'h', but my Derbyshire 'utterly' would have sounded like 'ooterly'. Hoadley's utterly mesmerised his audience, it was stretched out to sound like 'atterly'. My 'ruffian' would have been 'rooffian'.
Other members of that ever-nodding group tended to sound more affected in their own speech within the hearing of Claud Hoadley.
At long last, the lofty shrewd eyes came to rest upon the scruffy youth who stood outside the group. In a sharp sarcastic tone, clearly cool and censorial, the pedant spoke -
‘I see we appear to have acquired a young person. May we know the name of this ... new acquisition?’
I gave my name and mumbled something about living in the US and being on holiday currently staying with a relative in Horsley Woodhouse.
Having carefully and slowly pronouncing both H's in Horsley Woodhouse - so carefully and so slowly - it sounded like a foreign place in my own ears.
The gathering noted with smug satisfaction that I was not accustomed to enunciate the name of my family village in that posh manner. They knew, only too well, that the rough lad before them was much more accustomed to saying 'Ossly Wuddus'.
I winced under the slimy sneer of Hilary Raymond Hawley, who emitted one of his numerous breathy 'ha ha ha ha's'.
With acute discomfort, a macabre grin gradually broke out on one of the nodding heads. It was like a deaths head! Ghastly skin seemed to be stretched tight across the facial bones. The skull was leering at me.
Observing my discomfort, another man led me to the end of the bar and bought me a drink.
‘Better this way, he whispered. ‘It's seen as bad form to have a private conversation when Hoadley has the floor. Anyway, I'm getting bored with his tirades against the new progressive Canon at Derby Cathedral.’
‘They go to church?’
‘My dear boy! You have so much to learn - they practically own Derby Cathedral! I kid you not. Smells and bells; they invented it. I'm surprised the whole congregation don't rise when Hoadley and Hawley make the grand entrance.’
I was informed that each Sunday was much the same. The great and good of Derby sit near the front, always in the same order. First Miss Bulstrode, the headmistress of the prestigious Derby High School for Girls. She chats with Hoadley in Latin and Greek.
Then we have Hawley, who sits next to the tweedy Miss Penelope DeHaviland, the editor of Derbyshire Life and Countryside Magazine. They exchange bits of gossip about the Lord High Sheriff and the Lord Lieutenant.
Last, but not least, is the bolt-upright form of Hoadley himself, keeping trunk and legs at a precise 90 degrees.
I glanced over to the fawning group with disdain. Claud Hoadley was fulminating against The Sound of Music, condemning it as
‘Yet another exa-rrr-mple of American trash polluting British Cinema-rrr-s'.
Having enjoyed that excellent film, I knew this diatribe said more about the bigotry of Claud Hoadley than it said about The Sound of Music.
I began to absorb the subtle middle-class values which were being communicated from that group of superior homosexuals on that evening. Members of the club were encouraged to appear to be, at all times, inwardly assured, stable, smug - even arrogant.
I was experiencing culture shock. Unlike in the United States, here in Derby discussion of money was considered vulgar, unearned privilege was admired and American pushiness deplored.
Steered by Hoadley and Hawley, the conversation meandered around various subjects, but the correct code of conduct came out loud and clear; manual work, technical skills, people in trade, self-made types and all manner of 'doers' were to be despised by these nodding heads.
Fifty-eight years on, I reflect upon that sad elite of oppressed people who (to make their own position safer) felt the need to denigrate other human beings regarded as inferior in the mid-20th century British class structure.
In Scruffy Chicken, Nobby first appears on page 195 in Chapter 31 – A Dancing Gnome. He is an odd little man skipping about entertaining a small audience.
Perhaps a touch larger than a dwarf, not quite so shrivelled as a very old man, but certainly a small old man of uncertain age.
Nobby had a nice, simple face, reflecting a kindly nature which made him popular with children, popular with almost everybody.
There was a suggestion of the supernatural about this character under his funny little beaten-up cap, clad and shod in medieval attire.
There was something timeless, something one hundred percent Derbyshire about this strange little chap who belonged in the dales, in the woods, on the moors, alongside the canals, the rivers and would not be out of place in deep ravines or in the entrance of a cave.
People were absorbed by the strange spectacle of a funny little jig, performed by this funny little man. They were mesmerised by his hops, spins and whirls. It was magical in its effect and was entirely wholesome, in contrast to the spiteful prancing and capering of Mr Toad, who, in his well-known, evil 'dance of delight', rejoiced in the misfortune of his enemies.
Nobby's dance was free from anything like the effeminate pirouette of the outrageous Simon Tonks. It had none of the gestures I had observed in a sickening, affected minuet performed by the snooty Derby clique of elite homosexuals. Nobby was nice.
When his movement stopped, delighted folk applauded and threw coins into the vagrant's ancient battered cap as he bowed, thanked, quipped and laughed.
‘That man has never done a day's work in his life!
He's nothing better than a sewer rat,’ snarled Mr Toad.
People in the gay community were well aware that the indigent Nobby the Gnome woke up each morning in a different public lavatory, looked to the hole and simply waited for his early morning delivery of fresh semen.
Like other characters in my novels, Nobby was based on a real man I met in 1965. He was not always itinerant and homeless - but could be devious and deceitful. He never revealed his true age estimated as about mid 70s at the time of his death. It turned out he was close to 90!
Years of outdoor living in the wilds of Derbyshire had weathered a leathery countenance. Howling winds and sun had burned his facial features defying all attempts to uncover the year of his birth.
Cycling around in the summer of 1965, I came across him sitting in the gardens of Nottingham Castle. On that occasion, I had a heart-to-heart conversation which revealed some of his interesting past life.
Nobby was in pensive mood on the slopes of that one-time medieval fortress when, in a pleasant moment of serendipity, I recognised him.
For a while we sat in contemplative silence surveying the southerly panorama of a mid-20th century city which had changed little in the previous 50 years.
It was a comforting view for a homesick teenager previously isolated in Detroit. It was so English, so nostalgic. To the west, lay The Park. In the early 19th century, it was a real park now a forest of Victorian roofs and smoking chimneys falling away in serried ranks, nicely decorated by the occasional mature tree.
To the south, there was a distant vista of the meandering River Trent which encircled the poorer rows of roofs in The Meadows.
This picture, soothing and calming, was enriched by grime and grit. Beyond, moving east, there was evidence of commerce, industry and pollution. A distant train whistled. It painfully puffed and clanked slowly over the Nottingham Canal, under Abbey Bridge and, eventually, out of sight and out of hearing.
Nobby and I watched ragamuffins having a great time chasing each other around the flower beds. Their yells and squeals were entertaining, a welcome part of the scene and adding to the total picture. My quirky friend and I stared out across the plain seeing into infinity.
I seemed to be seeing it all in shades of black and white and wondered why? Then it came to me. I’d seen all this before watching Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Set in Nottingham, it portrayed the working-class heterosexual ‘kitchen sink’ existence of boozing, brawling and bedding so graphically evoked by Alan Sillitoe.
All this existed dangerously close for those of same sex attraction. Perilously, they tried to make contact with their own kind struggling to snatch their own special pleasures in the big City of Nottingham. There were numerous undocumented casualties. And nobody knew this better than Nobby the Gnome who had the scars to prove it. Was he thinking of these perils now?
In an attempt to read the old man’s thoughts, I studied his profile. Nobby had a nice if rather gnarled face. A once cute turned-up nose, sweet as a button, was now turned down and slightly bent to one side. A fact cruelly observed by an irritated high and mighty Hoadley after the lowly creature had dared to address him outside Derby Cathedral.
True, the ancient gnome was misshapen. He was worn by years of lavatory living and long exposure in the howling wilderness of North Derbyshire. But Nobby was not so old or as hideous as the Belper Goblin. Nobby had nothing of the leering, fish eyes of that crooked old crone, or any of the knobbly carbuncles which disfigured the countenance of the weather-beaten Toby Jug.
And Nobby was totally innocent of the lust infested, fat, stubbled, slobbering face of Guzzly Granddad. Moreover, he certainly had no trace of that twisted look inflicted on the repulsive face of Becksitch Betty by a life time of sustained, spiteful thoughts.
‘A penny for your thoughts,’ I said to Nobby.
‘I’m thinking about my friend Ron. It’s his birthday,’ replied the gnome, still sadly staring out over the wide Vale of Trent.
I probed gently treading carefully, mindful of deep waters. ‘Was Ron a very special friend?’
‘He would have been 72 today,’ replied Nobby in a voice which was steady – but only just.
‘Would you like to talk about it?’
You can find out more about this fairytale character in Secret Summer.
Chapter 30 is entitled - Nobby: True Tales of a Naughty Gnome.
To me he seemed a natural work of art, to have morphed out of the very elements of Derbyshire. Long after he was gone, his face could still be seen in the gnarled, knotted, writhing and twisting trunks of ancient trees depicted with more skill and imagination than any human artist could achieve.
At any moment, his head might poke out of a hollow old oak, a suitable home for such a character. He could be seen sitting in the coils of choking ivy, or in the rotting recesses of an ash tree recovering from a long hard winter. The imagined representation of that old gnome was as invisible as the hidden gay underworld in the Peak District itself.
Throughout most of the 20th century, the illusive sprite had always been there one minute, and gone the next. Now he has gone forever. He has reunited with other bizarre elements of Derbyshire homosexual history. They have all passed away, gone to that Great Cottage in the Sky. We will never see their like again.
Copies of Secret Summer are available directly from me at £4 inclusive of P&P. Send a cheque to 44 Dovedale Cr, Belper DE56 1HJ.
TRIBUTE TO TOAD 1930 - 2006
If Mr Toad had been alive to celebrate his birthday on April 29th 2023 - he would be 93 years old.
The notorious Mr Toad is the star of SCRUFFY CHICKEN. For the three years of writing that novel, in declining health, he continued to insist he would never survive to collect his complimentary copy.
Accordingly, in the summer of 2005, I sent him the following letter, consistent with the ongoing fretful narrative of our stormy relationship.
Dear Mr Toad,
As you are determined to die before my autobiographical novel is published, I send you the following extract in which I express my affection for you. Yes - AFFECTION! In spite of the bumpy ride along the rough road of our 41 years of fractious friendship.
He died on January 1st 2006. This was the day upon which the novel, he never read, was published.
I found my funny friend to be, quintessentially, the very essence of old-fashioned Englishness. Toad was as salty and as vulgar as a seaside postcard. The best times in my life would not be in the company of intolerant chickens. No. The best times would be spent with my dear old friend Mr Toad, being tossed and blown about on the North Sea on board the Bridlington Belle.
Toad was quaint. Toad was funny. Toad was a bundle of fun. Toad was a barrel of laughs. He represented an amusing character in caricature - perhaps one of the last of the type.
These precious hilarious moments were the beginning of a lifelong friendship, nay, a love affair; a love affair which would last for the whole of the remaining 20th century and into part of the 21st century.
Toad had known and loved Bridlington since childhood. In 1965 (the year we met) we ran along the stone pier to where the Bridlington Belle was about to depart on one of its regular coastal tours around the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head.
Like two eager boys we pushed and shoved our way to the front for the best view, standing on the tip of the bow. A man with an accordion appeared on the deck and played popular pre-war seaside songs. A few fat common women - raucous ladies with fat sunburned legs - performed a jolly knees-up, encouraged by squeals of merriment accompanied by screaming seagulls swooping from a blinding blue sky.
On the voyage, I fell into a happy reverie leaning over the prow, watching it crash, splash and cut through the sparkling blue of the cold North Sea. At my side stood dear Toad, silent, also enjoying a rare moment of pure happiness with his new friend who actually liked him, genuinely liked him for what he was - warts and all.
And there were plenty of warts. Toad was not blessed with good looks – hence his nickname
The first sight of him was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Yes, certainly a toad. His pupils had christened him well. He looked like a toad. His exuberant bulging eyes, full of ardour, were set wide over a tight mouth which seemed more like a long crack. ‘Crack in a pie’ was a regular comment from his enemies.
Look at the front cover of Scruffy Chicken. The boy with bicycle entering a tangle of rock and impenetrable woodland undergrowth is me exploring deepest darkest Derbyshire:
Look carefully at the moss-covered crag on the left above my head and you’ll gradually decern the semblance of a toad. The toad is confronting his adversary - a tangle of tree roots grasping a rocky outcrop which suggests an ugly old witch such as the hideous Belper Crone or Becksitch Betty.
Toad inspired something of the revulsion felt at the nearness of a reptile. Like Kenneth Graham's Mr Toad, he was comical, eager, impatient and entirely puffed up with his own importance.
Catching sight of a teenage chicken, the little creature ran, actually ran up forcing me to retreat several steps.
Mr Toad was a boaster. He rejoiced in regaling his friends with juicy and detailed accounts of his successful sexual adventures.
The pompous little creature often pressed invitations on young men to spend the weekend at his Nottingham bungalow.
These visits were always focused on flesh as he feasted his eyes on, and lusted after well-formed protruding bottoms.
The salivating reptile was solicitous wishing his guest an ingratiating and gesticulating good night.
‘Should you require an aspirin – or anything else in the night; don’t hesitate to ask. My bedroom is just a step away.’
Thus spoke the crafty little Toad with raised arms and fingers waggling with anticipatory excitement.
Toad haunted certain well known public toilets in the Nottingham / Derby area.
At the slightest encouragement, without ceremony or speech, his grasping hand reached out to fondle balls and cock at full mast. Such lewd interludes often took place after dark in the secret nooks and crannies of a cottage.
Vaseline, at the ready, was quickly applied by Toad’s naughty finger to an eager orifice. This notorious music master was now in his element. This was his speciality. Toad of the Toilets - with his legendary large manhood was a well-practiced bummer, and he loved an audience.
‘I’m good at it’ - was a frequent brag.
Many gay men are repelled by signs of effeminacy, but Toad choreographed his copulation to the needs of any eager panting pansy who would respond well to abusive dirty talk.
‘Sit on it ya slut!’
At the Derby Turkish Baths during the 1960s, many of us witnessed the willing being lowered on top of the toadal tool enjoying ecstatic thrusting up and down – up and down. This erotic impalement inflicted waves of exquisite pleasure on the recipient sometimes causing squeals of rapture.
The ride of a lifetime always concluded in mutual climax ejaculating an amazing fountain of spunk shooting high splattering the entranced audience.
A rude abuser, his glistening phallus still proudly pumped up on full display, complemented a facial expression of pure triumph. Toad gloated and gloried in his performance.
On the gay scene he was detested by many, adored by a few and loved by one. That was me. Underneath all the abuse heaped on this odd little man was a heart of gold. He was at his best when needed as a friend.
In 1995, a breakdown forced me out of teaching. A shadow of my former self, Toad came to the rescue. For recuperation, he treated me to several holidays at various seaside resorts where we had been very happy together. He was capable of great generosity and kindness.
He was the perfect medicine in entertaining me with his impressions of the quirky characters we both knew. I laughed until I cried. He encouraged and launched my writing career insisting that he be the star of a queer world – queerest of them all.
After reading him extracts from Scruffy Chicken, I feared he’d be offended.
‘Not at all!’ he said. ‘You write well and you’ve told the truth. As Oscar Wilde said – “The last thing a person wants the hear is the truth.”
‘It’s how you see me. I’m in a book! You’ve immortalised me.’
It is now many years since the publication of Scruffy Chicken and the death of Mr Toad.
I think of him every day. I miss him dreadfully.
Recent posts have shown the serious, sad and occasional tragic side of gay life. In an effort to inform my readers, I try to paint an accurate picture of LGBT+ reality based on real people - the quirky characters who inhabit my novels. This was best described on the back page of Scruffy Chicken -
Meander with Narvel around the leafy lanes of Derbyshire and discover a secret subterranean fairytale world which could have been penned by Grimm. Meet his collection of curious characters, all taking shelter in their twilight existence; monsters, clowns, the high and the low, the pretentious and the pompous, the scented and the sneering, the common and the crude. They are all inspired by real people, all warped by the vicious homophobic cruelty and bigotry of 1965.
The homosexual community has always been richly endowed by amusing and entertaining queens such as Simon Tonks.
My first impression was that of a child's face - a simple face, almost a cartoon which could have been drawn by a child; three buttons, two for eyes and one for a nose.
As my focus improved, the child became a boy and the boy, with a cartoon head cocked on one side, became a man.
Nobody knew the age of Simon Tonks. He was one of the mysterious freaks of the Derbyshire gay underworld. Bitchy queens in their forties had cottaged with him. They swore blind that Simon Tonks must be at least 45.
As the years rolled by, he hunted for men with a new generation of teenage chickens, who assumed that he was one of their number - just another chicken, just another common slut ever searching for that next cock.
Within living memory, the old Belper crone Jasper Wormall had always looked old, bent and hideous.
In contrast, Simon Tonks, within living memory, had always looked young and pretty.
Entering into conversation, Simon said,
‘Allo!’ in a camp falsetto voice. ‘Av bin on me 'olidays.’
‘Nice. Did you do anything interesting?’
‘I went to see Gypsy Petulengo on North Pier. It were fascinating in er tent - but got nasty when I came out.’
‘Well - it’s like this. I saw this lovely rough bloke sitting on a bench. Dead butch, something like a navvy with legs spragged an showing a nice piece o’ meat. Ooo it were tempting!
‘A sat next to im an said – Allo! looking, between is sexy legs. E give me a filthy look! So, a said, I’ve been to see Gypsy Petulengo. She’s told me fortune. She’s told me wot’s going to happen to me.
‘E got violent! E threatened me! E shoved his fist up to me face and said –
“Did she tell you you’ll get this down ya fuckin throat if ya don’t fuck off!!”
But Simon enjoyed and boasted of many successes which attracted criticism of his promiscuous life style. Labelled a ‘loose bitch’ by a self-righteous pomposity became yet another funny story to make his friends laugh. Dirty talk was a ‘turn on’ for many in these lecherous circles.
Another respected observer warned me – ‘Beware! You are judged by the company you keep. Turning to Simon, he lashed out - ‘You’re nothing more than a common cow!’
He failed to realise his remark was subsumed into Simon’s comic stand-up repertoire to be recycled in pubs and clubs.
The foundation of these frequent self-slandering comments in the gay community lies in the ubiquitous debauched life style of many gay men.
My novels reveal the 1957 horrors of Mundy Street Boys School in Heanor, where I suffered excruciating humiliations. Traumas are burnt into my psyche. Cruelty has a cost. I’m still haunted and repress agonising memories of childhood torture followed by decades of anonymity.
However, in this secret life, I found comfort in the company of people like Simon Tonks and his hilarious licentious chatter.
Another success with our Belper Friends. To the soothing sound of heavy rain crashing on our window, we benefited from an honest exchange of confidential issues, medical matters, NHS strikes, delays and other topical subjects together with a few funny stories.
On that same theme of current anxieties, our loyal INVISIBLES sent a kind message of helpful support and gratitude -
Hi Narvel and Terry,
Thank you for your recent fascinating Bulletin and all the news of Belper Friends.
I can assure you; we read each and every one of your Bulletins and thoroughly enjoy them.
Pass on our thanks to Allan Morton for all the assistance he gives you in bringing these emails to us.
Your Bulletin certainly resonates with us. Virtually everything you mention we have experienced ourselves.
And because of that - we are becoming increasingly concerned over the rhetoric of our current Home Secretary and the Conservative Government. There is definitely a schism developing in the government regarding our rights. They are being used as a political battering ram by Suella Braverman to gain advantage in the upcoming conservative party leadership election - post general election.
Her recent speech blatantly stigmatised LGBT folk in her attempt to gain political advantage amongst the right wing of her party. LGBT people fleeing persecution in their own countries represent less than 2% of those seeking political asylum in the UK.
If we were living in Nigeria or Chechnya, we would have an excellent reason to claim asylum here. Braverman is a political opportunist and should be removed at the earliest convenience.
Regarding your recent post – OLD AND GAY - it's very true that many closeted gay men are terrified and in denial about being gay. Many men seeking liaisons don't want to kiss - as though that makes them non-gay - even though they are having gay sex!
Many men don't want to give you their name - even their first name. They don’t want to acknowledge you in public for fear of their opposite sex partner saying 'Who's that?’ In short, there's a sizable chunk of gay men living terrified lives! Why should that be in 2023?
When we first met, a song called Like Sister and Brother was very popular. It fitted our relationship to a tee. Just change the words to boy and brother.
Click on the link below -
All the best to you all,
I’m grateful to the Editor of QB Magazine - David Edgley.
He has generously offered to visit Belper Friends with his projector and entertain us at our next meeting on Wednesday, November 8th.
You’ll all be invited into our cosy and comfortable living room which already has a pull-down screen originally installed for a TV projector.
David’s presentation sounds most interesting -
A guide to strange places, a tour of places of gay interest in Nottinghamshire.
Narvel's Information Sheet 181 is now available to read online via the link below:
Old and Gay
On the last afternoon at William Howitt Secondary Modern School in July 1960, lasses and lads were gathered in the canteen. It had been cleared to form a dance hall echoing to sweet sounds from the old school gramophone. The sadness of those last hours is best summed up by Valerie Billet –
‘We were going different ways, leaving behind friends we had worked and played with. Leaving people we’d got to know, people we cared about. Our lives were changing. We were moving on.’
Howitt had been a culture of kindness and I dreaded moving on to an unknown future.
In my book Heanor Schooldays, on page 188 are printed the words of From Now Until Forever - a 1958 hit record sung by the stunningly attractive Adam Faith.
Click on the following link to hear this on YouTube: https://youtu.be/lzxEzQdpxhg?
His words give a simple message of love, hope, companionship and the passing of a lifetime. Notwithstanding, this is a portentous song of separation foreshadowing many paths into the unknown.
A beautiful song of sensuous melancholia delivered with pizzicato strings plucking at our hearts. It was a favourite played many times on that last afternoon. A silver sound for a blue mood.
There was good reason for this gloom. My friendship with some Howitt boys was far from platonic. In 1959 and 1960, we were 14 and 15-year-old testosterone charged randy youths desperate for erotic relief.
Occasionally, I would find myself alone with a boy willing to engage in mutual masturbation. Trust was an important factor here. Silent sensuous secret fondling flourished in the certain knowledge that each incident would never be revealed to others.
See further details in Sea Change
Before publication of Heanor Schooldays, in 1998, I paid for permission to print the lyrics of From Now Until Forever by Max Nesbitt, Harry Nesbitt and Geoffrey Venis located at Carlin Music Corporation in London. Accordingly, I feel entitled to quote a few significant lines.
Valerie referenced pupils going different ways. Sixty-three years on, I’ve certainly travelled through life in a very different way from most of my other friends. On September 3rd, my husband Terry and I celebrated our 47 years together.
‘As the years go rolling by, I’ll turn to you and sigh –
We’ve had a good life hand in hand, and shown the world our love can stand.’
At 78 and 84, we still stand when many of our contemporaries have passed on. However, having endured the trials and tribulations of cruel homophobia, it has not always been a ‘good life’.
Sadly, one of the most common links between LGBTs in 2023 is the persistence of anonymity. Some gays prefer to use first names only. They might reveal email addresses, but reluctant to give a postal address or family information. I’ve come to accept this reality of those who share same sex attraction.
I’m haunted by certain conversations remembered from way back when I was a promiscuous teenager in the 1960s. Numerous anonymous encounters ran their course in sexual silence - concluding with a speedy separation in dread of yobbish violence – or police entrapment.
Occasionally, my unknown partner exchanged a few words with me before we parted and he dissolved into the general populace. I was particularly disturbed by conversations along the lines of –
‘You’ll have to get married you know.’
‘Well! Who’s going to look after you in old age? You’ll need children - and grandchildren to care for you.’
‘What are you on about? I can’t bear a woman to touch me!’
‘Don’t be daft! You’ll have to bear it. Anyway, you’ll be lonely and folks will talk. They’ll call you a queer.’
In 1960, gay marriage and the possibility of children was unheard of. I still come across gay men who will say –
‘Please don’t be offended if I see you on the street and ignore you.’
This uncomfortable subject was discussed at length in our September Belper Friends meeting. Tragically, we all knew lots of men who still live a double life.
I’ve often wondered about my Howitt mates who shared salacious intimate moments with me 63 years back.
Some will be dead. Perhaps some have adapted to a double life and perhaps some, like Terry and myself, have come to terms with their same-sex attraction.
Below is a collage of 1960s Adam Faith posters:
I’ve always been intrigued by ghost stories. Of late, my reading and viewing has been dominated by haunting and magical books, some aimed at children giving a child’s point of view.
I’ve just read Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. It’s a charming tale of a 1958 schoolboy who, by some enchanted means, time-slips into a late Victorian country house garden and conceives a fondness for a girl called Hatty. Only she is able to see and hear Tom. He considers her to be a ghost. Hatty, indignant, insists that Tom is the ghost!
Only animals and children can see a ghost. This was best illustrated when the ghost of Patrick Swayze pushed his face up to a cat in the 1990 film Ghost. Terrified, poor pussy viciously clawed the cheek of a villain played by Rick Aviles.
Most fascinating of all ghosts are spooks who don’t know they are actually dead! In the 1999 film Sixth Sense, child psychologist Bruce Willis tries to counsel a reclusive isolated boy played by Haley Joel Osment. He is tormented by seeing dead people who need help. Actually, the child psychologist is himself in need of help – because he is dead - but doesn’t know it.
Sixth Sense inspired my novel Double Life – A Ghost Story.
See BOOKS on my website –
The whole book is a conversation between me and a boy who was disruptive and difficult in my class.
I taught as I was taught in the 1950s - too strict and too formal.
In two decades, only once did I achieve a breakthrough and enjoy a friendly, meaningful relationship with a pupil. Ronnie was part of a boisterous bunch of ruffians with an appalling reputation throughout the school.
On one occasion, after an onerous hour, I dismissed the class but detained him to suffer a reprimand.
In writing Double Life, I tried to recall and reconstruct this extraordinary conference, the most memorable moment in my entire teaching career and locate the exact point when everything changed between the teacher and his charge. The sea change happened when Ronnie asserted an effective heartfelt defence.
Despite limited articulation, he managed to paint a picture of all the stresses and chaotic adolescent miseries which could have been a 14-year-old Narvel.
Effectively, the atmosphere of this detention, this coerced punishment suddenly transformed into a voluntary and valuable meeting between two equals. It was a magical moment, a sudden switch from monochrome into glorious Technicolor where this boy wanted to stay and further explain his life to an adult who was now more counsellor than schoolmaster.
Soon after this episode, I suffered a mental breakdown which kept me away from the Worksop Valley Comprehensive School for many months.
I was offered and accepted a course of counselling sessions, but the solution was plain and simple - early retirement restored me to full health in one year.
So much for reality.
The fiction detailed in Double Life is a return to work after a period of recuperation and counselling. In a halfway house between several months of lesson preparations and actual teaching, I am installed in a small classroom where daily life of a busy school can be observed. This is the vehicle for a novel which explores all the above issues.
Mr Annable reflects on his years at this school. His story, in part a ghost story, is told in flashbacks as he tries to make sense of a repressed and difficult career.
During those lesson preparations, I receive a big surprise. Pondering over untidy notes spread out on a table before me, suddenly, there is Ronnie! Ronnie, large as life, mischievously grinning through the glass door. Immediately, I sum up the situation. He had been ejected from his classroom. He is bored, wandering around the block heading for even more self-inflicted aggravation.
‘Get in here, Ronnie!’ I bark. ‘Kicked out of class again?’
‘Well … not really, sir …’ ventures the boy eternally in denial attempting to justify his conduct. Recalling good relations and the need to build on past success, I smile and put the lad at ease.
‘Never mind. I’ll take responsibility if questions are asked. Sit yourself down. I could use a bit of company. Nobody seems to notice me these days. How are you?’
‘Not too bad, sir,’ beams Ronnie, settling into his chair, clearly delighted to be back with his former teacher. ‘Not teaching this period, sir?’
‘I’ve been poorly, Ronnie. Took bad, as we say in Derbyshire. Not physically, it’s ... well ... a mental breakdown. You’ve finally driven me crackers! Seriously, I’ve been in this room for months scribbling away at this stuff. The idea is to get me back into the classroom eventually, get me better - something like that.’
‘I’m sorry ...’ said Ronnie, concerned, sincere, inadequately trying to express himself. Writing stories?’ asked the visitor after noticing an untidy spread of papers.
‘Supposed to be lesson plans, but I’m thinking it’s all a waste of time. Perhaps I should be writing my life story.’
‘That would be interesting! When you come back you could read it to us. We’d enjoy that, sir.’
I smiled a sad smile.
‘I don’t think I’ll be back here teaching you, Ronnie.’
Briefly, in simple terms, I explain my breakdown and problems of memory.
‘But enough about me. Tell me your news.’
‘Got meself stabbed, sir!’
‘Stabbed! You mean …’
At this, the victim jumps to his feet, lowered his trousers and jerked up his shirt proudly revealing his milky midriff and several inches of ugly scar just above an adolescent waist. This is serious violence, and recent violence at that.
‘My God! Cover yourself, lad, quickly. Anybody walking by will wonder what’s going on in here. How did that happen?
‘Oh Ronnie! Will you ever learn? It must have been a hospital job.’ Recalling the brutal reality of this boy’s chaotic life, I’m alarmed.
Ronnie is discomforted and slumps back down in his seat.
‘I can’t remember.’
‘You can’t remember! But you must remember!’
‘I was in hospital a long time.’
Now it’s my turn to be discomforted. My mind turns to recurring anxiety. Had I locked the door when I left my house this morning? Why was I plagued with visions of piles of unopened letters and a neglected overgrown garden?
As the book continues, Narvel and Ronnie have daily conversations about the joys and sorrows of their lives. I admit my homosexuality. Ronnie is OK with my queerness and grateful for a sympathetic attitude to his troubled dysfunctional family history.
The meetings are constructive and mutually beneficial. However, both become fearful of an unexplained ‘elephant in the room’.
They become aware of an enduring continued memory loss both existing in a maze of unexplained confusion – but dare not ask any obvious questions.
At the end of each visitation, Ronnie leaves the classroom with his cheerful cheerio but has no recollection of where he in going – until he turns up the next day. The same with his teacher. They only exist during the daily chat. They see each other, but nobody can see them.
As this bizarre situation continues over the following months, gradually, they begin to believe the unbelievable.
Narvel and Ronnie are dead.
Read the full story in Double Life.
Searching for a suitable musical accompaniment for this piece, Allan found an old Kate Bush song called Watching You Without Me. This poignant song about ghosts grapples with themes of loss and communication.
The singer does not realise her ghostly status, as she tries ineffectually to communicate with the loved one she left behind. She is on the wrong side of existence and cannot communicate with anyone.
The lyric, “Don’t ignore, don’t ignore me” resonates deeply with the listener, as this could easily apply to the trials and tribulations of relationships with less ghostly people...
You can here the song on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVecjIBwR4Q
An extract from Double Life
From 1963 to 1976, I lived in Detroit visiting the UK annually for as many weeks as funds would stretch. I had several jobs but was most content as a messenger at Detroit Bank located downtown. The pay was poor but duties undemanding and totally stress free.
Each morning at 8.30, I stood on the sidewalk in front of the impressive Palladian frontage of the bank with its Greek columns and capitals asserting the confidence of American capitalism.
It was my daily duty to meet the President of Detroit Bank. As the massive Lincoln Continental gracefully glided to a halt before the mighty edifice of finance, a regular exchange was like a mantra -
‘Good morning. Mr de Hammarskjold.’
‘Morning,’ came a grunt from the great man. It sounded more like a reprimand than a greeting. ‘Tell ‘em to wash it.’
It was the same every day. The six-foot-plus President eased himself out of the driving seat set for a tall man, quickly replaced by a humble five-foot-nine messenger who would not dare to adjust the power seating position. With difficulty, I drove the stately beast. It was dangerous being deeply reclined with a restricted view together with inadequate control of the large vehicle. In these precarious circumstances, the Lincoln slowly moved around several corners into a narrow street dwarfed by two skyscrapers.
A little way down was the entrance to an expensive downtown multi-storey park used by executives. A young black guy was waiting to take the car to its usual reserved location.
‘Mr de Hammarskjold would like his car washed,’ said the driver.
‘Yes,’ hissed the scowling youth somewhat aggressively.
This ungracious response to a polite request irked me. The unwarranted attitude had been endured for several days when I finally decided to challenge the attendant. His rudeness was no mystery.
An overnight sleep stealing low of unbearable humidity had not dipped under 70 degrees. Worse was to follow! Another miserable scorcher in the 90s was fast approaching this hazy polluted oven of concrete and cement. Even worst still, the atmosphere was thick with ethnic hatred. These were the 1960s when Detroit was gripped by racial turmoil eventually leading to an explosion of burning riots which left city blocks gutted resembling a war zone.
Regardless, this humble messenger attempted a remonstration with the African American along the lines of their shared lowly circumstances.
‘Look!’ I implored, ‘I’m no different to you! I’m not pretending that I’m better than you. We’re about the same age and are probably paid the same. When I ask you to wash this car, I’m just following orders. There is no need to be so nasty to me!’
The black boy seemed to be startled by this outburst when the drama was interrupted by an older black man.
‘Hey! Hold on there! What’s this all about?’
The man turned out to be the boy’s boss. I reiterated my main points and tried to explain that I was not prejudiced against the attendant. In so doing, the two Americans were suddenly transfixed by an unfamiliar foreign accent known in England as broad Derbyshire.
‘Where on God’s earth is you from?’ asked the boss man.
I launched into another spiel describing a background and family of mine workers emerging from the bowels of the earth with faces encrusted with coal dust - so deeply ingrained - no amount of soap and scrubbing could ever remove the blackening which marked the lowly status of a common collier.
I added my belief that at £8 per week, existing in a primitive terrace cottage, there was precious little difference between a coalminer and a cotton-picking slave. For good measure, I threw in the fact that while Detroit Negroes drove around in huge beautiful automobiles, my kin folk got around on pushbikes.
This tetchy polemic was cut short by the boss striding forward with an air of menace. He was a big man, albeit with a benign expression signalling good humour, indulging a child throwing a tantrum.
‘Well, Englishman, I guess that’s better out than in,’ he said, now in full smile. The smile faded addressing his subordinate,
‘Laurent! It’s your job to be nice to our customers. We don’t sneer at them, we help them. You can start by explaining the pre-sets.’
The boss was referring to the complication of power seat controls. In past days he had noticed me struggling to drive the Lincoln. Sullenly, with a touch of shame, Laurent slipped into the passenger seat and asked his customer to get back into the car.
I was invited to push a button marked ‘medium’ which immediately raised and moved the driving seat forward to suit a man of average size. Both boys beamed at this sudden demonstration of electronic wizardry and made eye contact in that intimate space.
For two youths looking at each other, the moment lasted longer than it should have done. Hostilities had magically evaporated and I was now free to savour perfect proportions of quintessential African features. I scanned tempting thick lips, a wide nose and big, beautiful, wondrous round eyes.
In return, the black boy was able to examine a Caucasian countenance so very enticingly close.
‘Yeah! I guess we done some good here,’ came a commanding deep voice from the big black boss’s face which had abruptly jutted into the car. It shattered the tender moment of incipient mutual affection.
‘You got time for a coffee?’ I declined. I’d already exceeded the time quota for parking the President’s car. ‘Lunch?’ Yes, I could return during lunch hour. I shook hands with the boss (firm grip) and then accepted Laurent’s gentler warm hand. Further embarrassing seconds passed before, reluctantly, it was relinquished; another exciting moment of extended duration.
Boss Man was the Boss, entrusted with daily management, hiring and firing. Consequently, staff were recruited from a social circle of young men who shared my secret sexual inclinations.
If not an educated man, he was intelligent and could articulate his thoughts and effectively communicate his extensive knowledge of a life blighted by institutional racism.
In the weeks which followed, I was invited to several social gatherings in which this dominant personality steered animated discussions around a labyrinth of what he termed ‘double jeopardy’ - the perils of being both black and queer.
He encouraged thoughtful and tolerant debate - reminding his boys that I was a guest, effectively a stranger in the US, and should always be treated with polite respect.
On one occasion, this ‘tutor group’ was taken to see the 1958 musical South Pacific. Viewing was preceded by a short lecture on one important and controversial song –
You’ve got to be Carefully Taught - click on the link to hear this on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo0kVvdo_C4
‘The lyrics say that racism is not born in you, it has to be taught,’ explained Boss. ‘This movie was badmouthed by Southern politicians. One redneck Georgian lawmaker said the song was inspired by Moscow!’
‘How so?’ asked Laurent.
‘It justified interracial marriage. The bigots saw the lyrics as a threat to the American way of life.’
The big man’s philosophy was revealed in question-and-answer sessions.
‘Have you noticed that we always have sex standing up? Why is that?’
‘Don’t know,’ said one boy. ‘I guess straight folks do it in bed.’
‘Yes - but they don’t face the dangers we do. Have you seen wild animals or dogs woofing down food? We do sex like that. Cops might come and lock us up, or hoods might put in the boot. We got to be quick, that’s why I’m so good,’ he smiled. ‘Get ya jollies off before something bad happens.’
He justified group sex on the grounds that it was ‘more fun’ and in some ways safer than private activity.
‘Let’s face it; most stuff we do is done with strangers. You just don’t know what kooks you’re playing with. If everybody can see everybody else, you can jump in and help if somebody squeals or something don’t look right.’
During these weeks of Boss gatherings, Laurent continued to look longingly at his new white friend and was ever at his side. But it never seemed to get better than that. In whispers, several times, I asked if we could meet up away from the group in private. Each answer was much the same.
‘It’s like ... we stick together,’ said Laurent. ‘Boss keeps us on a short leash. We all do it together. Keep it simple. Boss calls it “schoolboy sex.” We all get sucked together, cum together and learn together. Boss don’t go for secret romance.’
On the other hand, regarding the racial angle, deep down, we knew that colour was an insurmountable obstacle to any realistic hope of a relationship. With that threatening cloud hanging over us, there was an ineffable sadness in the loving looks often exchanged.
It was fantasy, all too soon violated by the feared explosion of city violence. The long hot smouldering month of July 1967 burst into flames on Monday 24th. Like thousands of white workers from segregated suburbs carefully cleansed of Negroes, I did not dare make the daily 20-mile commute from home to downtown Detroit.
Since 1964, dozens of major American cities had already suffered riots and looting. After several city blocks had been gutted, beyond the control of regular riot police, Federal Paratroopers were sent in to restore order.
A few nervous employees of the Detroit Bank started to trickle back on the following Monday and I steeled myself for a return to work on the Tuesday.
My fragile link with Boss’s black harem was entirely dependent on my daily duty to park the Presidential Limousine. From that morning routine, all invitations to other venues followed. I was never given a phone number or an address; indeed, I was warned against attempting any such contact.
I would turn up each morning and receive instructions from the Big Man. On this first day after a week of racial turmoil, Boss and Laurent welcomed me with a heartfelt hug of affectionate relief and praise for doing ‘the right thing’.
‘Shit baby!’ said Laurent, ‘The Black Panthers had road blocks stopping and checking out everybody.’
‘What then?’ I asked.
‘Not much. No problem if you’re black. They’d just let you go on your way.’
‘What if you’re white?’ I pressed. A few tense moments passed before Laurent, with sad eyes, sad voice and slow shaking head, responded.
‘You in bad shape, baby.’
Those few grim words seemed to sum up my precarious position within the circles in which I moved. Boss Man was also thoughtful, sad and serious. He was fully aware that this new revolutionary, far left, Black Nationalist organization had no reputation for being gay friendly.
Few gay African Americans were brave enough to admit their sexuality to armed citizens’ patrols who were giving out free breakfasts to poor children and other good works.
Above: Created AI image depicting a scene from the 1967 Detroit Riots.
Somehow, unbeknownst to me, the riot and its aftermath had a catastrophic effect on Boss, his bodyguards and his harem - they disappeared!
One morning in early August, I arrived at the park to be received by an indifferent stranger, who shrugged at the question -
‘What happened to Laurent?’
Boss turned out to be a different boss with a personality so weak and grey he was almost invisible. Nobody was about to give a nosey white kid any information which was none of his business anyway. The shrug summed it up. I was frozen out of any exchange with the black race. No small talk. After handing over the car, I walked back to the bank.
I was in love with Laurent, and Boss, for all his dominance; he was the centre of my sole social network - not to mention intellectual stimulation.
That man was an education. He understood the reality of my world. You live in a heterosexual network where heterosexual friends get introduced to other heterosexual friends, heterosexual relatives and heterosexual colleagues.
When something bad happens, people swap news, close ranks, offer help, support, advice, condolences - you get the lot. My family threw me to the wolves. I was on my own.
In 1960s Detroit we were the despised minority in hiding. We were known as fags, queers or degenerates. The race issue simply complicated an already difficult situation. Had the parking people been all white, I was still isolated from relatives and others who, in their view, knew there was something seriously wrong with me.
Not a word was ever spoken, but the tension and shame were always hanging in the air. There’s an expression, the elephant in the room. I was that invisible elephant, an embarrassment never to be acknowledged.
A warm sunny day put nine of us in comfortable shade at the top of our Belper Friends garden.
We have two members called James. There is Iain Greenwood and James plus a James I’ll refer to as Nottingham James.
He gave us an interesting account of the recent Silver Pride party at the West Bridgford home of Roger Hollier which I gather was a jolly barbecue in his garden.
In these summer months, Belper Friends can boast a hearty picnic including Terry’s delicious sandwiches, followed by Chris Buck’s homemade cake and Iain Greenwood’s fruit cake.
Chris gave us an update on his letter writing campaign against homophobia, and Tim Blades spoke about an important drumming event on August 5th.
Father of Belper Friends, the ebullient Police Officer Fred Bray talked us through the successful Pride in Belper event which was featured in the August 8th edition of the Derby Telegraph. In spite of the rain, Chris, Iain, Narvel and Terry were glowing with big smiles. They bubbled with fun sporting the Belper Friends Banner. It was an excellent photograph composed by Fred who always creates a good time party spirit. That same spirit has been captured by our official photographer Iain.
See the separate Pride in Belper post with many photographs on my website.
Few characters in my novels are totally fictitious. Most are composites of people I’ve known in the 1960s when I was an active scruffy chicken. An author has to be careful about real people who inhabit published books.
This piece, about the son of a dustman, has been a challenge. Names and places need to be changed in a cast of characters, some of whom, might be still alive.
If you’ve read Scruffy Chicken, you’ll recognise Claud Hoadley the celebrated snob who had been running the Derby gay scene since the late 1940's.
His ‘number two’, Eric, took me to a posh hotel in Derby called The Friary. It had a comfortable bar, finished in dark leather and dark panelling hosting a meeting known as Friday Night at the Friary.
A loyal claque of obedient nodding heads were ‘received’ by the venerable figure of Mr Hoadley who dominated the scene with his powerful personality. I was allowed into his august presence only to discover that Eric was later reprimanded for –
‘Permitting a rough common boy, dressed like that, to enter a high-class hotel! An embarrassment to the management as well as ourselves.’
Hoadley would not brook any disloyalty or any disobedience; however, as a tempting teenager, I was invited to adorn one of his house parties which is where our drama begins.
A pompous effeminate man called Clarence was mooning around a desirable masculine man called Damien – butch as a brick. Unlike the other guests, he was roughly spoken with a deep sincere unaffected pleasant voice.
Sensing a kindred spirit, he shook off the odious Clarence and gravitated in my direction where we exchanged a few friendly words sharing our Derbyshire born / Derbyshire bred working class credentials.
I was enthralled! He was bored with the la-di-da genteel gathering of smart suits and suggested we leave the party.
A few years older than myself, Damien took charge of the social niceties. He thanked Mr Hoadley and whisked us out of that select gathering into a wintery night where a light snow was falling.
He had a car! In the 1960s, car ownership was rare and freedom from waiting in chilly bus stops - pure luxury.
Cosy and comfortable, we headed north into the Peak District and booked into a hotel at Monsal Head. The snow was already several inches deep – and getting deeper.
In contrast to Youth Hostels, I was impressed with the hotel’s sumptuous affluence, but my recollection suggests a musty, quaint reception area of slow decay. Notwithstanding, it was relaxing and warm and we were hungry.
Dinner was delicious and delightful followed by a short walk to the famous edge of magnificent views down Monsal Dale. In snow and darkness, all was invisible until our romantic after-breakfast walk in the sparkling sunshine of morning.
I was in love. The sexual memory of the bedroom scene is now obscured by the starry-eyed fairy tale element of this idyllic adventure.
Cinderella-like, the whole thing dissolved and disappeared the next day after Damien deposited me on Aunty Joyce’s doorstep in Horsley Woodhouse. I gave him my address; he did not give me his.
I expected to hear from him. Instead, at the Derby Turkish Bath, information from the gay grapevine came fast, furious and fearsome.
Damien was not his real name! His real name was Albert Birkin – the son of a dustman.
The word ‘dustman’ horrified the snobbish elite in Hoadley circles. It was not a problem for me, but I resented the deception.
It was explained that Damien was able to disappear! He could dissolve into the heterosexual majority in an instant because of his masculine, roughly spoken – butch as a brick – persona.
Nobody knew where he lived. Nobody knew where he worked. He was a mystery man who made occasional appearances in gay venues.
Further information came from a gloating, sardonic Eric –
‘We were all very envious of your ELOPEMENT from Hoadley’s party! He is furious with you. I’ve been instructed to summon you to his august presence to suffer a severe castigation.’
Hoadley was unhappy with our departure –
‘Bad form! Consistent with conduct typical of the lower orders.’
In addition, he received an angry abusive telephone call from a ranting Clarence the next day. Hoadley was accused of being complicit with the abduction of Damien – the affair of Clarence. ‘Affair’ was a term describing an established loving relationship.
In due course, I visited Mr Hoadley, endured my punishment and tried to explain my side of the story.
This has been a tale of jealousy, envy, gloating and opportunism.
Fast forward several decades and see a rare appearance of me in a gay pub. I was chatting up a handsome young man and offered to buy him a drink. He excepted and named his drink.
The bartender produced my orange juice and the other drink. The price was shocking! Seeing my dismay, the bartender said –
‘You’ll have to get yourself a cheaper chicken, Narvel.’
‘How do you know my name?’
He smiled. I studied is face. He was older, but it came back. I was looking at Damien aka Albert Birkin.
Although a distant memory, I prefer to remember the subject of this brief encounter - as Damien.
I’ll always associate him with Lonnie Donegan's My Old Man's a Dustman which reached number one in the Hit Parade in 1960. Click on the link below to hear the track:
This snowy photograph was taken from Monsal Head, near to the hotel where Narvel and Damien got a room for the night. This magnificent view of the Monsal Viaduct (now a walking and cycling trail) set within the Monsal Dale, is very likely to be the view the two young men would have encountered on their romantic, after-breakfast walk the following morning.
In 1968, my friend Gary Mc Cormack [1947-1992] urged a few of us to journey from Detroit to New York to see a –
‘Fabulous new rock musical about a bunch of hippies who are dragging Jurassic morons out of their closets. It’s fantastic! We MUST see this pro-gay mind-blowing show. Everybody is raving about it.’
Tab Hunter lookalike Gary didn’t actually say, but I knew one of the ‘Jurassic morons’ was a reference to me! Like me, he was isolated and estranged from his homophobic family of ignorant boorish brothers compounded by a beer and hamburger baseball-mad father.
Gary despised the hated Detroit suburbs and took every opportunity to escape, cadging lifts in my new convertible Chevrolet Camaro.
The only way for Gary to travel (free of charge) the 700 miles from Michigan to the Broadway Theatre - was to persuade Narvel he was missing the 1960s sexual revolution currently exploding in New York City Centre.
Gary knew that, being young  hot and horny, I was unable to resist a few days of wild sex in the notorious gay bath houses of The Big Apple – where he proposed we would stay – and play.
I accepted, and agreed that the Camaro back seat should accommodate our close friends - Brian, Clifford and John who made it clear they were too poor to contribute to the cost of gas – but they would buy my theatre ticket. As I recall, admission was expensive.
Gary agreed to drive all the way right into the middle of Manhattan Island where he was familiar with a safe free car park in an Italian neighbourhood. Gary was streetwise in all senses of that word. He knew his way around the homosexual underworld as well as possessing a fearless ability to bravely navigate the deep canyons of the world’s busiest frenetic city.
I’d be terrified! I couldn’t contemplate such a horrific situation - let alone hours and hours of driving 1400 high speed freeway miles. As a chauffeur, Gary was indispensable.
HAIR - the Tribal Love Rock Musical - lived up to the hype. It was awe-inspiring! Unforgettable!
It explored themes of the long-haired hippie sexual revolution and caused controversy. I recall a strong conservative backlash to their counterculture, such as car stickers saying –
‘If you don’t like the police, call a hippy instead.’
I’ve always steered clear of drugs, smoking and alcohol, but (especially in 1968) was deeply impressed with HAIR’s strong message – IT IS OK TO BE GAY!
We had excellent seats near the front. I could hardly believe a scene where a group of butch guys held up a poster of Mick Jagger. One of them said –
‘I’d really like to have sex with this stud!’
Another one said – ‘Yeah! Get a load o’ that ass. Oh boy!’
One shocking song included – ‘Sodomy, masturbation, fellatio, pederasty – why are these words so nasty?’
In another outrageous scene, the whole cast appeared naked. In the grand finale, actors invite the audience to come up and dance with them on the stage. People tumbled out in the street, intoxicated with excitement, leaping and frolicking down Broadway.
There are many songs in HAIR - too difficult to pick out one to give true flavour to this splendid uplifting musical. Accordingly, I offer the official trailer of the 1979 film HAIR which includes samples of several popular numbers:
The stage production of HAIR was memorable. Also memorable was a tragic incident in the middle of the night at the gay baths. This single upsetting experience was probably the seed of my gay activism which developed in the late 1990s.
Sleeping rooms were available to groups of friends. Gary, Brian, Clifford, John and I were fast asleep in the small hours. The distressing sound of sobbing eventually woke me out of my deep slumber. It sounded like John was seized by some sort of sudden grief - an appalling mess of conflicting emotions – it was all too much.
Brian, Gary and Clifford were trying to comfort and console, but tears flooded back with redoubled force.
John gave way to a seizure of heavy sobs which shook a nerve-racked body at the very edge of despair.
Feeling totally inadequate, unable to make any useful contribution to the brave counselling of my other friends, I pretended to be asleep.
Eventually, the sobs subsided leaving John in a bleak state of emptiness, deep gloom and melancholy. In this sad condition it was difficult for anybody to make any meaningful progress in the middle of this long, dark, sleepless night.
For this miserable young homosexual in the homophobic world of 1968, it was hard to analyse his predicament. He was isolated from any professional help. At one point I caught a few words uttered by this poor boy -
‘A normal boy would have found a nice girl by now … approved by mom and dad and straight buddies … smiles, nodding heads …’
This dreadful scene took place 55 years ago. Looking back, I know exactly what John was trying to say.
If his so called ‘normal’ relationship ran into any difficulties, friendly advice would be offered by family, friends and colleagues. The world at large would bless and encourage the union of John and his girlfriend in the form of weddings, family morals, numerous films and the general media ever pushing and promoting heterosexual values.
Like millions of other gay boys, he felt the suffocating weight of heterosexual reproach and rejection. To compound problems, he was inarticulate. He was too callow and too young to mount an effective challenge to all the perverted brainwashing of his previous 23 years.
John was suffering a breakdown, probably triggered by a glimpse of what life could be like as dramatized in HAIR.
Gary died in 1992. Over the decades, I’ve lost contact with Brian, Clifford and John – but I fight on with continued campaigning for gay rights such as recalling the events set out above.
Pictured below is the original 1968 poster for the HAIR, the musical:
We were pleasantly surprised with an unusually high turn out on July 12th. The recent heat wave mixed with an occasional sudden deluge has made it difficult to decide on arranging seating in our living room - or garden. Partly sunny skies and merciful moderate temperatures placed us comfortably in the conservatory.
As always, I reminded the group that we have a faithful following of friends who never attend - or rarely attend in person - such as Peter from Chesterfield. He celebrated his 90th birthday on July 5th by sending us a letter which I read out.
He spoke of early days on the steam railway beginning as a Fireman at age 15 in 1949 shovelling coal to feed the boiler. At 18 he became a Driver. Eventually steam gave way to Diesel engines and Peter finally retired in 1993.
He's been a reliable supporter of my activism from first reading Lost Lad in 2003 and is now an avid follower of Belper Friends.
The monthly heartfelt words of encouragement from our splendid INVISIBLES are greatly appreciated and read out to an interested audience who are often sparked into animated discussion. Never seen, perhaps. But these loyal lads always conclude with enthusiastic appreciation for all we do for elderly gay men in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
‘You are WONDERFUL!’
My former pupil Tim Blades is a poet but also signs himself a drummer. He turned up to give us an interesting address which covered his recent adventures and explained the drumming connection.
Like Tim - Alan, Chris and James are also members of our brother Nottingham group – Silver Pride meeting on the first Friday of each month. They told us about David Edgley’s entertaining presentation on July 7th which included a film featuring Pride in Belper. David Edgley is the Editor of Queer Bulletin.
The afore mentioned James is not to be confused with our regular James - partner to Iain Greenwood our official photographer and fruitcake provider.
Chris Buck updated us on his commendable letter writing campaigning – not to mention bringing us his delicious homemade special birthday cake. Chris also enhanced the Belper Friends garden with generous gifts of three beautiful Buddleia plants. Thank you, Chris.
Fred Bray – Father of Belper Friends - sent us his apologies together with a big bright birthday card sporting a photograph of my younger self some 58 years ago! He certainly knows how to thrill. Thank you, Fred.
I have mixed feelings about turning 78 but thank all who kindly sent cards through the post together with various electronic greetings.
Special thanks must go to my faithful friend and fellow writer of many years – Allan Morton. Steadfastly, he makes these bulletins possible. Allan proofs, edits, crops the photographs and posts the finished product to Facebook, Twitter and on to my website for posterity.
Belper Friends meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 1pm in our home in Belper.
Examining the rough rides of a troubled love life, I described Ahmed and Narvel sailing into the sunset on an ocean liner blissfully happy. At that moment, we were full of hope, confident that our romance would succeed.
This time, we both knew our love was for real. It would conquer all obstacles.
After first meeting in January 1966, the relationship, ‘off and on’ was stormy in the extreme. We were desperately trying to make it work, but continually failing. Abruptly, I fled from the USA, back to the UK in April.
Safely in Derbyshire, I sent Ahmed a love letter (first of many) pleading for understanding and forgiveness. I explained being at the end of my tether – couldn’t cope with a painful and intolerable situation.
Ahmed responded in usual bombastic style to his ‘Booby’ - his pet name for me. As always, skilled grooming was a mixture of irresistible menace and magic -
‘I never give up. My Booby is coming back - if I have to carry you back to the United States. Am a comin ta get ya. You belong to me - period.’
I’m reminded of a few lines in Secret Summer -
Defeated by some need, some primitive urge. Gripped hard in the arms of that horny stud. I was forced up to the lips of my assailant.
I was not a rag doll! I objected to be treated as such. Resenting the insulting language, indignant at such unreasonable bullying, I resisted this coerced kiss and began to struggle.
But - perhaps … I did not struggle too hard.
After a sweet and tender embrace, this special moment is remembered all my life.
So – Ahmed arrived in the UK, claimed his Booby, and took him back to the USA. No need to be carried. I walked on to that ocean liner – walked willingly.
Back in Detroit, I opened my eyes ... and promptly closed them. It was the late summer sunshine which spot-lit my face, blinding me. It poured into that large plush bedroom, tastefully finished in conservative dark browns, old golds and any number of similar autumnal tints.
The night before I considered it all rather drab, but, now, adjusting to the brilliant illumination after many hours of deep dark sleep; even I had to admire the quality of lavish drapes and swags. Extravagant festoons framed large windows.
Booby lay very still in his half of that massive bed, the Imperial sized bed of Ahmed the lover, Ahmed the sleeper. Ahmed was very proud of his bed. Ten hours before, on entry into this expensive riot of Gothic fantasy -
"What ya think, Booby? Hey, bet ya never seen such elegance - huh?"
"Well ... it ... it looks good … pricey. It's interesting."
"Interesting! Is that all you can say? Interesting! A $1000 bed, best bed in Detroit, the acme of culture and all you say is - interesting!"
I had never seen such an ugly bed. The ornate headboard, footboard and four corner posts, all dark brown, evoked a mediaeval monstrosity of pointed arches, rib vaulting and flying buttresses which made Ahmed's bed hideous in the extreme. Assorted carved gargoyles gave it an essence of evil, more suited for Dracula.
Indeed, at the inception of this whirlwind reconciliation, the bed was an ill omen. It was deeply significant. In many ways it represented a profound gulf between the two lovers.
We both knew it, but, did not dare to speak of it. To give voice to such a thought would make it real, would make it dangerous. Having found each other, being so excited by each other, besotted by each other; at this early stage of reunion, we were both determined to make the relationship work.
There was no independent observer to assess the situation, no impartial counsellor to advise these young men. They were alone. They were blundering through a minefield of inexperience and ignorance with scant support from the social skills of diplomacy - usually acquired by older people.
Half a century on, the older Ahmed and the older Narvel could have counselled their younger selves if, indeed, such counsel would be heeded.
My taste was still rooted in the modern, 'contemporary' era of 1959. What could be more modern than 1959!? Its simplicity of design, clean straight lines and bold bright colours.
In Narvel’s dream home, his bed would have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It would look like something in a space ship, a vision of the future.
At a deeper level, I was very English. Having just stepped of the boat, I felt the full impact of a terrible mistake. Pining for my homeland, for the Derbyshire Dales, for quaint little villages, for my Ordnance Survey map, my bicycle and rucksack.
In stark contrast, Ahmed was the quintessential loud, brash American of popular imagination.
He rejoiced in a United States which had a 'Manifest Destiny' to rule the world. He considered the world should be grateful to be so ruled. Ahmed was confident and bombastic. His natural element was the bustling American city with its endless 24-hour energy of neon lights, gay bars, gay clubs and the usual homosexual hunting grounds of parks and baths.
He would never be happy sitting in an Ye Olde Worlde English tea shop, chatting to nice old ladies, admiring a distant 'green and pleasant' vista. Oddly enough, that Gothic bed became the symbol of these irreconcilable positions.
And, in that giant bed, listening to the regular breathing of my lover, I was now awake and concerned. I was wondering how a boy, [yes, in many ways Ahmed was a boy, just as immature as me] how a boy could afford to live in such a luxurious city centre apartment?
The night before, Ahmed had proudly displayed his personal wealth, his gleaming symbol of power and prosperity. It was the dream of American youth. He owned a Ford Thunderbird. He commanded a noble beast, an elegant thoroughbred as fine as a steel blade leaving the English boy open-mouthed in awe - a sight which greatly pleased the boastful African American.
"Yeah! Get a load o' that! Booby's gonna look sooo good in Ahmed's T-Bird. Get in."
I took some comfort from that bustling American city with its energy of neon lights and gay clubs. The discotheque had just made its entry on to the scene. I loved the Motown music! I loved dancing with the man of my dreams, desiring his erotic movement, bayonetted by his jiggling sexy bum – leering, wanting, lusting in a miasma of lechery.
In 1989, I heard a scintillating disco song by Donna Summer which thrilled me back to that sexy scene whirling, leaping and pirouetting around my beloved boyfriend.
The title – This Time I Know It’s For Real neatly summed up the intense hope for success, fuelling this frantic frolic, energising our dance of joy.
You can see the video here on YouTube:
The video shows quick tantalising flashes of a gorgeous young black man in the background capering and skipping around the set – driving me mad! On first viewing, that hunk of perfect bodily proportions - gyrating with magic movement - became my former lover – Ahmed.
But you can’t live your life on a dance floor.
In the autumn of 1966, we finally threw in the towel. Thoroughly demoralised and exhausted by a hopeless cause, we buried our futile love and went separate ways. His to stay in Detroit, mine back to Derbyshire.
I enjoy indulging in nostalgia. In an attempt to make sense of my life, I look back over the decades to the adventures and characters of my youth – the toads, gnomes, crones, goblins – the high and the haughty – the old and the ugly.
And then there were the chickens - beautiful boys. But there was only one Ahmed who appeared in Secret Summer, the novel which witnessed the love of my life. He was my one great love – the gorgeous American of African extraction. Friends were disappointed to hear that this powerful attraction did not end well.
‘But your romance must have a happy ending. Everybody wants a happy ending!’
Shelagh Delaney was criticised for the ‘unsatisfactory’ ending of A Taste of Honey. It was seen to be both sad and, somehow, incomplete. She argued that it simply reflected real life which does not always turn out as we would wish.
In composing a novel about my momentous love, I was faced with the same problem – if they want a happy ending, where should it end? Along the continuum of life, there are days when we are happy and days when we are not.
Real life is like that. And behind the mask of fiction, I always wrote about real life and real people.
Ideally, Ahmed and I should have been strangers in paradise - lovers who meet in a lovely garden, under the whispering leaves of a mulberry tree, as did the Caliph and his true love in Kismet.
The hard fact of meeting in a gay bathhouse in January 1966, did not make our great love any the less great or less fulfilling.
In 1976, I met Terry Durand. We are still together after 47 years. We watched Johnny Mathis singing Stranger in Paradise on German TV.
This very footage from 1976 is available to watch on YouTube:
Rewind 57 years to 1966 and see Ahmed and Narvel ecstatically happy on an ocean liner. Accordingly, I decided that Secret Summer would end on that day of blissful reconciliation and delightful reunion.
I could truthfully describe us smiling, blithesome, in good spirits sailing west into a magnificent sunset of brilliant red, purple and gold. It was cold on deck, but we cuddled together to keep warm.
It made an all-important physical connection which continued to weave its magical spell – continued to keep us together – for a time.
I might have been be tempted to reach for the traditional ending to a fairytale love story, such as the old cliché –
And they lived happily ever after
But those words would have to be implied rather than spoken, if the author was to be completely honest.
Notwithstanding, in 1966, Ahmed and Narvel did sail into the sunset and they were blissfully happy.
Frankie Avalon was a gorgeous clean cut all American teen idol with a beautiful singing voice. His big hit reminiscing The Summer of ‘61 is a joyful dual celebration of a special year for Frankie and myself.
My latest book about 1961 was conceived when certain themes and feelings about my 16th birthday coalesced into an emotional exploration of my adolescent memories.
A sad aspect of these recollections is the secrecy and anonymity which still blights so many gay lives - even in 2023.
I was an emotionally damaged poorly educated, credulous, naïve teenager living a pit village near Ilkeston in Derbyshire called Stanley Common.
The year was dominated by an amusing rotundity, known as Dolly who guided me through the trials and tribulations of first love. He showed me a bleak future -
‘Teenage homosexuals are exactly like you – horribly frustrated, deeply repressed leading a double life. Eventually you’ll become entangled with a rough wench and be trapped inside an unhappy marriage. I’ve seen it all before. You must disappear from your home. It’s the only way.
We queers are born criminals in a hostile world. We are constantly stressed hiding our true selves.’
During that magical year, I met all strands of gay society - the low and the high rubbing shoulders with powerful cliques affecting highly polished vowels and even stumbled into the ‘real thing’ - aristocratic circles of spies and yes, even royalty.
I was one of untold numbers of queer boys who, out of desperation, escape queer hating parents.
Like many callow teens, I didn’t know what to say. In contrast, the Narvel of 2023 had a lot to say about the joys and sorrows of those teenage years. To date, my life, 1945 to 2023 has been a long and often troubled existence.
Blending fact and fiction with gay history, this is a story set in the harshness of a homophobic colliery landscape from which eventually I escaped to find a better, happier life 62 years later.
Frankie Avalon will sing you his song complete with a backing of sweet-sounding angels. Lush lyrics tell the same tender heartwarming story of a momentous year as affecting as my own story.
Listen to Frankie Avalon's The Summer of '61 here: https://youtu.be/jJ1HxbU0Gf4
Narvel's 16 in 61 is available to purchase either directly from himself or through Amazon. Click on the book cover below:
Narvel's Information Sheet No.180 is now available to read online:
We feared this meeting would never happen. Both Terry and I have been recovering from a nasty virus.
The last time I was as ill as this is when I was struggling with my teaching job in the late 80s and early 90s. Attacked by virus after virus and had to deal with it living alone in Clowne.
The big surprise is how Terry (who has never seen me so poorly) has swung into action. He has done everything for me. Nothing too much trouble. Even night visits to check that I’m still breathing.
As the days passed our positions reversed. In the days up to June 12th – I’ve been nursing Terry who, sadly, contracted the same virus. He rallied on the day before our meeting and prepared his usual delicious sandwiches.
These were followed by Chris Buck’s homemade delicious cake which, in turn, was followed by Iain Greenwood’s delicious fruit cake.
We were all well fed, somewhat concentrated together under the cool breezy deep shade of mature trees at the top of our garden. Thus, we nicely escaped the extreme midday heat of a very hot day.
Alan Sharratt gave us more useful information about our brother Nottingham group – Silver Pride which meets on the first Friday of each month.
Fred Bray and Tim Blades sent their apologies.
I announced the dates of local prides –
Worksop on Saturday, July 8th
Nottingham on Saturday, July 29th
Belper on Saturday August 5th
My actor, director producer friend Bill Smith is not a regular attender, but always sends interesting, topical information –
Human remains found in the locality of Thieves Wood, nr. Mansfield - have now been identified of those belonging to a Pinxton man who was murdered back in 1967. He went missing under mysterious circumstances. This local coal miner visited the pub lavatory – and has never been seen since!
Human remains found in Sutton-in-Ashfield field belong to dad-of-six missing for 56 years.
From the Early '80's, word got around the 'gay community'. Normanshills Wood became a more frequented cruising area. In the '90's, it became notorious after a couple of police raids, which gained headlines in the Mansfield CHAD.
Instead of acting as a deterrent and a warning to men who sought sex with men, it alerted more men to the fact that this was a frequented cruising site.
Men could have sex with men, becoming so popular one could pick up and cruise 24 hours per day, in the same way as Hampstead Health. Jack Straw's Castle was also notorious for gay cruising.
On a more positive note, our loyal INVISIBLES updated us on Peter Tatchell’s successful campaign -
Greetings to all Belper Friends.
Sir Marc Rowley - Head of the Metropolitan Police is the first to issue an apology to all LGBTs for the way his force has mistreated them in the past.
This is a historic moment for us - because it means no longer can the police target and mistreat us and get away with it.
If you look back through our contributions to Belper Friends, you will see that we have quoted example after example of the targeted homophobia of Notts Police.
Even as recently as 2016 they were threatening to write to home addresses 'outing' registered keepers of vehicles parked in the No Man's Hill car park. Even though they knew this was unlawful.
I would say the Chief Constable of Notts Police certainly has some apologising to do.
Keep up your good work,
As before, I’ll leave the last word to Chris Buck who continues to bravely battle against homophobia. Here is an edited version of his interesting talk.
Idea to Petition Chas3 – King Charles III
I was impressed with Tom Daley's BBC documentary ILLEGAL TO BE ME. He visited Commonwealth member countries interviewing athletes from the LGBT+ community in the build up to the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
These countries have draconian anti LGBT laws. They had to keep their true selves secret in order to avoid penalties like whipping, imprisonment and stoning to death.
There is also the threat of vigilante groups taking matters into their own hands abusing, beating and even murdering LGBT people.
Tom managed to achieve something to bring the issue to the fore - he entered the Games Arena in the opening ceremony carrying the late Queen's message baton surrounded by Pride Flags!
In February of this year Pope Francis went on a Peace Mission to Sudan accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. The Pope said that these draconian laws made many people criminals. In his eyes this was sinful and an injustice.
The other two senior clergy from Britain agreed.
At his coronation in May, King Charles pledged himself to serve ALL communities. We already knew he wanted to make "reparations" for mistakes made in the name of the British Empire. These bad laws date back to colonial times. Also, there is meant to be a desire to modernise the British Monarchy.
Could the time be right for him to speak out for the LGBT+ community?
The King of Norway has!
For centuries it's been an established way to approach the King or Queen by petitioning people who have the monarch's ear. So top of my list, Justin Welby and Dr Iain Greenshields; I ruled out Pope Francis as a kind of sovereign in his own right.
So far nothing heard from Lambeth Palace, but I do know, from the PA of the Moderator, that Dr Greenshields and the new incumbent have received my email.
Previously, I thought Tom Daley OBE might get somewhere, pick up where he left off. Buckingham Palace staff reject any correspondence they see as political and many letters do not reach the monarch.
I put in some research into Baroness Scotland and the Commonwealth of Nations. The Baroness actually set the promotion of LGBT+ rights as a priority for her first 2 year's tenure as Secretary General of the Commonwealth!
She concluded that there needed to be a 'dialogue' to show the economic benefits of having a happy workforce. Who better to start this 'dialogue' than the King himself aided by her good offices. I have suggested this partnership to the Baroness.
The Commonwealth of Nations has a Charter! There are many parts to it, all meant to be dear to all member countries!
Including among many more -
Tolerance, Respect and Understanding,
Freedom of Expression,
to name only 4 sections.
In 2016 the population of The Commonwealth of Nations was estimated to be around 2.4 billion. Conservatively, 1 in 20 people can be said to be LGBT+, that's 120 million in our community. Of the 56 member territories 35 have draconian laws against us.
So, easily 70 million people living in abject misery!
If all those people were being oppressed in one place there would be an outcry in the Free World. But they are spread over 35 different places.
Countries cannot be forced to change their laws however dire their affects. Vigilante groups need to be educated out of their lack of humanity for their neighbours within their own countries. Baroness Scotland proposed economic carrots rather than trade sanctions but overall, there's a need to change hearts and minds to bring change about. Who better to start this than the actual head of all the Commonwealth, King Charles himself?
Maybe, with a new head, it's time to refresh that Charter too?
Below are a couple of photographs taken at the Belper Friends meeting. Thank you to Allan Morton for editing these and for posting this bulletin online.
An extract from Scruffy Chicken
In the November of 1963, I found myself riding on a Greyhound Bus from New York to Detroit. Everything was strange and new. But, inside, I was the same – gay and deeply frustrated.
The soldier was silent. I looked down at his leg. Nice leg. A few passengers nearby had switched on their overhead seat lights which lifted the general darkness into a half gloom.
I snatched a few crafty looks at my butch neighbour. He was a desirable, clean-shaven, handsome, All-American boy with a square jaw. I was 18; he might have been about 20.
The smart uniform perfectly fitted the sensuous contours of a hard, fit body. The pleasing and tempting profile at my side caused me to be very careful in stealing further stealthy glances.
Bitter experience had taught me to be quick. The occasional shufti had to be pre-planned. In the fearful event of eye contact, with a flash movement, I could appear to be innocent. I could appear to be observing something of interest on the other side of the bus.
These subtle skills had been long practised and honed at a level which could almost be described as subconscious and automatic.
Some passengers were sleeping. I looked at that sexy shoulder and conceived a plan. Gradually, eyes closed and my head, very very gently, lolled over - eventually making contact with the soldier’s shoulder.
HARD KNOCK! I affected groggy confusion and looked a question at the military man’s inexplicable assault.
‘You fell asleep on me!’ he drawled.
‘Oh … err … sorry.’
Apology grudgingly accepted via a grunt - but no further words were exchanged. I sensed not receiving the benefit of the doubt.
It was a chance in a million – but failed.
Perhaps the inspiration of hope came from a favourite 1959 record heard many times from the Heanor Milk Bar juke box. Gorgeous clean cut Paul Anka invited his girlfriend to Put Your Head on My Shoulders. Listen to this song on YouTube below:
A beautiful song with a twangy resonant guitar together with topical angelic female backing.
I could not yet bring myself to admit that I desired this young man on the bus, whose body I touched, ever so briefly.
A few weeks before at the Eastwood fair, my mouth went completely dry after being suddenly threatened by an aggressive rough youth brandishing his fist in my face. He wanted to know -
"Wot ya lookin' at me fa? Ya want trouble, do ya? Aye! An trouble ya'll fookin' get! Nar fook off!"
In the hard, macho, homophobic world of Eastwood, Heanor and Stanley Common; boys like me quickly learned to avert their gaze from the fascination of a comely working-class face connected to a strapping body, round protruding bottom and interesting bulges packed inside sexy tight jeans.
Deep down, I knew why I’d been looking at that particular youth. After that appalling trauma witnessed by a group of pals, I was not prepared to be honest with myself. I was not prepared to face the clear and self-evident implications of that embarrassing and wounding experience. It was just too awful.
I wasn’t queer! Queers were dirty old men who haunted public lavatories.
I wasn’t like that.
It happened in January 1966 when I was 20. The place was a dimly lit steam-room in a homosexual bath house, just over the Detroit River.
Visibility was restricted by a weak amber glow struggling to penetrate the pea soup of that hot cavern. When my eyes adjusted, I was able to navigate and placed myself in a promising position, next to a black figure of African ancestry.
He was naked. We were all naked. He was one of many in that titillating Turkish Bath where the anonymous gathered in the hope of meeting up with kindred spirits, hiding in a homophobic landscape.
A slight turn to the right revealed the profile of a boy who, after a few seconds, turned a beautiful full face. It was an appraisal, a close-up to confirm his selection for the evening.
Here was an example of stunning good looks fixing me with his considerable power. Here was a chicken-hawk who was accustomed to hunting the chickens of Detroit City - a youth who was accustomed to getting exactly what he wanted - and he wanted Narvel.
In those few magical moments, Derbyshire eyes scrutinised Detroit eyes. Both pairs were full of wonder, full of desire. Under pressure of enchantment, each countenance melted, slightly, very slightly into a half smile.
I was drawn into an alluring face. This strapping lad with an Adonis body was about my own age.
It was a face of softened African features: not a wide nose: lips not thick, yet temptingly full: coal-black hair, not exactly frizzy, yet, with short tight curls suggesting his ancestry.
And big round eyes, yes, beautiful brown eyes, firm of purpose, holding, bayoneting their prey.
To the end of the decade, we became lovers. In Secret Summer, I called him Ahmed. The same sexy hunk became Gene in 16 in 61 – Adventures of a Gay Teenager in 1961.
The chosen record first released in 1963 happens to be sung by another gorgeous Gene – Gene Pitney 1940-2006.
Click the link to hear it: https://youtu.be/n_IXw1UOQJ8
The opening instrumental of MECCA is a strident, thrilling Indian Fakir’s flute. Like a snake it slivers and twists around the melody. It mesmerises and enchants the lover calling to his beau situated in a forbidden heterosexual enclave beyond his reach.
Mecca is a sacred city threatening death for those of same sex attraction. In this way, our love was doomed from conception.
Marvin Gaye 1939 – 1984
Shot to death by his father in 1984
What’s Going On – anti-war, socially conscious protest music: https://youtu.be/H-kA3UtBj4M
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology): https://youtu.be/efiDnHS3fzk
I will introduce these first selections by referring to my appalling experience with American draft papers.
January 8th 1966
Like most 20-year-olds, with a sinking heart, I had received my draft papers. Like most boys of my age, I was likely to be sent to Vietnam.
On this very day of January 8th, 8,000 US troops attacked a Viet Cong stronghold near Saigon in the biggest American offensive of that dreadful war. That same Saturday, the 'Iron Triangle' was pounded by B-52 heavy bombers and artillery.
I was horrified. Why should I, an Englishman, chronically homesick for the green hills and dales of my native Derbyshire, risk life and limb for the Americans?
Why should I be transported to the other side of the globe to harm people who had never harmed me? This is the same Narvel Annable who would not, could not, defend himself against the merciless cruelty of Mundy Street Boys School just ten years before.
The day before, Friday, January 7th, I had obeyed a command to attend the army medical. It was awful! It was a de-humanising routine in which groups of naked boys were barked at, ordered from station to station to be tested, touched, poked and prodded to assess their fitness to serve Uncle Sam.
I filled in a form of many questions including one which asked - 'Do you have any homosexual tendencies?' At that time, the United States Army had decided that if anyone answered 'yes' to that question, it did not want that person, even if he had made an untrue statement.
The attitude was -
'If, to avoid military service, a man is prepared to make such a statement about himself, to falsely claim that he is a moral 'degenerate': we do not want that man. He is unfit to serve his country.'
I answered the question about my sexuality, honestly.
Accordingly, my initial classification was downgraded from A1 to 1Y. I was overjoyed.