An Easter View From A Fridge – hot buns, loincloths, charlatans and coming out

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I’ve made buns. Hot and cross for Easter. Today I received a card from an uncle, a chaplain, encouraging me that this year I might ‘consider resurrection’. I was terribly flattered, but think that might be beyond my powers.

But Easter is a celebration for me, a resurrection of sorts. It’s the anniversary of my own coming out, many years ago when I was a student. I celebrate it still – coming out is a life changing event without formal celebrations to acknowledge it. Lots of people now take it for granted, and in many ways now we’re encouraged to think we don’t need to come out, that it wasn’t or isn’t important anymore. A social move towards ‘uncoming out’, invisibility, assimilation, the backlash against equality and getting the message tom just shut up with the gay thing and not ram it down throats anymore. Be grateful, you’re nothing special or different.

It felt felt very different as a Catholic teenager with a crush on a best friend at University. There had been clumsy attempts at coming out before – a furtive purchase of Gay Times, an embarrassed confession to a priest who explained, as a former Rugby player, that all young men went through such a phase. And there was the punk girl who chatted me up on the top deck of the no 2 bus from town, who concluded I must be gay because I didn’t want to get off at the next stop  have sex with her. ‘The house is empty’, she told me with glee.

But one Easter I blurted out to a guy from Kansas who was on overseas internship that I thought I wasn’t 100% straight. I don’t know how I got round to it, and didn’t mention I had  crush on him til months later. But I got a hug, and all of a sudden I felt acceptance for something I hadn’t been able to accept for myself for so long. And that was it. Easter. Renewal. Rebirth. The rock had been rolled away from my tomb.

I’m reminded of a another coming out at easter. It involved an alleged tax avoider from the continent, who pretended to be a member of clergy at school. There were no CRB checks back then, and even if you were clergy you got away with all sorts. He was terribly camp, terribly outrageous, got away with calling us all ‘fuckin sheeeetheads’ in his unlikely foreign accent when teaching foreign languages, and decided it would be simply marvellous to produce a musical based on the gospels – but, naturally,  to the songs of Diana Ross. So the Crucifixion had Our Lord tied upside down on a crucifix as they played Diana’s best selling ‘Upside Down’. And in a self effacing act of humility, he cast himself as Jesus Christ. In nothing but a very short, skimpy and rather sparkley loincloth. As Jesus would wear.
The highlight, of course, was the Resurrection. At which point out charlatan friend appeared  rolling back the stone from his tomb, to the tune of Miss Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’. Which nearly happened with the loincloth, it was so skimpy. He was eventually spirited away to the continent on a one way ticket in the dark of the night. Faithful reader, I’m never sure how much of this true story could ever be true. But it happened.

So, whatever Easter might mean for you, I wish you the surprising, the unlikely, the unbelievable, and your own experience of renewal and rebirth. And some hot, sweet, sticky buns.

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Betty Bones And The Mystery Of The Phantom Clipper Nicker

even at  an early age Betty Bones knew she Wanted To Be Evil...

Betty Bones harboured many secrets…

Yesterday, I met up with an old school friend. We caught up on 20 years worth of love, loss,  career, family  and friends. He was warm, charming, friendly, happy and looking very well. I’ve missed him, and I longed for my old school days and what seemed simpler times. School reunions can be a bit of a minefield – memories are tricky magicians, and people change through circumstances, relationships, realisations, life’s little intricacies. Thankfully,  neither of was too different from the couple of classmates from a Catholic boarding school we both knew 20+ years ago.  We were able to step back.

My nickname at school was Betty Bones, given to me by my best friend Mary Harlot. We were camp and bitchy and dramatic, protective and ‘sisterly’. Mary died very suddeny  in 1999 and I’ve missed him ever since. I was explaining Laurie Anderson‘s description of grief or loss as a ‘library being burnt down’  one of the truest descriptions I know – a whole load of memories, connections, networks and relationships become ashes,suddenly gone. And for a couple of hours, in the company of an old friend, I was Betty Bones again, and Mary was alive with us  too.

I had a great time at school,  full of scandal and gossip – Mary and I used to write a weekly ‘Scandal Top Ten’ of rumours, gossip and half true events.The truth hurts but is always respected  he would say. Recently,  another  friend and school colleague, Simon Mason, has written a compelling and harrowing, brutal account of abuse and subsequent drug addiction, Too Far, Too High, Too Soon. He sent me  a picture of us both in a school play. where I was surprisingly butch as Huckleberry Finn.  My first line was Hello yourself, and see how you like it.  School  wasn’t as happy and sparkly, though,   for other people, and I’ve since heard several stories of abuse and unhappiness while I stomped, minced and breezed my way through.

I’d moved there after a traumatic and difficult first year in the local comprehensive, inhabited by bullies and a cloud of despondency. I started off a bright, creative student and ended up being a recalcitrant, disillusioned and unhappy child forcing my parents to move me. It’s not that it was necessarily a bad school, but it  was too big for me, and I got lost and frightened in its inability to see me. Although I was  never bullied (‘you would have eviscerated them’, my friend told me over tea), it was painful watching the effects on others.

In my first term at New School, a History teacher suggested we write a creative story after his history lesson. I seized the chance, he gave me an impossible mark of  10+ and read  my story out to the year. I was suddenly a writer, a weaver of tales, and haven’t stopped writing since. Unwittingly, ‘Humble John’ is  probably responsible for my first historical queerotica novels Hot On The Trail and Legion Of Lust, where I reimagiined history from a queer perspective. Most of what I experienced at school got reimagined by Betty Bones and Mary Harlot. So much so that I’m never quite sure what was real and what wasn’t. Truly,there was murder, and drunken nuns, and beatings, and imposter clergy who were surreptitiously ghosted away one night… some of which I might write about in later blogs (spoilers!)

One year, there were a spate of incidents in our library , ruled at that time by Mary Harlot and Betty Bones under the guise of Head Librarians, deciding which pupils would or wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to take out books. It was an old library in a converted part of a beautiful chapel, with a simple shelving system involving boards held up by metal clips inserted into a metal frame. Like meccano.  Someone discovered that you could remove the clips and prop the shelf above up with a larger book. Unfortunately, if the book was taken away, the whole shelf of books fell down on the unsuspecting reader as onlookers stood by laughing. Thus was born The Phantom Clipper Nicker, fearsomely striking on many, many occasions. Our staff librarian, nicknamed Old Mother Diptheria for no other reason than she was elderly, noticed a reference book in the wrong place and attermpted to remove it, only for a shelf full of books to topple on to her. Help Me, she begged ,from under dusty tomes,  her weak, wizened  old hand was attempting to hold up. Unsuspecting new boys were directed by The Phantom and his/her accomplices to ominous looking tomes, unwaware of the fate that was due to befall them. Bodies In The Library. Rather appropriately, I last saw the library used for a location for the cosy clerical murder mystery series Father Brown   – but there was no sign of The Phantom Clipper Nicker.

When I left my friend, after a couple of hours of tea and gossip, I found myself crying for no apparent reason.  I do that these days. Perhaps it was another ‘Brokeback Moment’, perhaps it was just the events of the last three months catching up with me, perhaps it was 20 years of life being crammed into a couple of hours of tea and gossip.  Or perhaps The Phantom Clipper Nicker had struck once more ….