When I was in my late teens, early 20s, I used to ‘knock around with’, as we used to say, a group of blokes. There were about a dozen or so, but we hardly, if ever, all got together at the same time. Most of us had sports cars and we would turn up at a pub, have a drink or two, and then drive home. Not the most exciting social life I know, but we all got on well. We were uncritical.
One of the blokes was gay. We all knew somehow, but none of us cared. Odd as it seems now, no one ever said anything, not even when he wasn’t there. Perhaps especially so then. It would have been bad form. I used to think it showed that we took him for what he was but now I regret we weren’t more open about it.
The only time it was even mentioned was when a small group of us were sitting outside a pub, and then it was only hinted at. We were relaxing after a day watching motor racing at Brands Hatch. We’d made it as far as South Darenth, at a pub we often stopped at.
One year, after an F1 GP at Brands Hatch, we’d adjourned there as normal. The pub was packed so we sat outside in the evening sun, so it was that year. We’d said all we could say about the race and things were quiet, so when the chap from the RAC parked his van in the only parking gap, and some way from a wooden telegraph pole (the relevance of this will be explained), he gained our interest.
The chap got out of his van with a little cloud of irritation, almost depression, about him. He slammed the van door so hard that it didn’t catch so he had to slam it again, but more gently, destroying any enjoyment he got out of the act. This increased his air of irritation.
As with any group of young men, this piqued our attention and all eyes were on him as he removed one of the two ladders on his roof rack, and dragged one edge along the road as he made his way to the wooden pole. There you are, I told you it would become relevant.
He put the ladder up against the pole, fixed something around it, then climbed up until his feet were on the top rung. It became apparent that his intent was to remove an RAC sign indicating the route to the rear entrance to the circuit. However, at first attempt he could only just touch the sign if he stood on tip toes.
Our attention was secured as it seemed precarious. One slip and down would come the RAC man without the sign. But no such luck. He descended to earth via the ladder and, believing no doubt that it had somehow deliberately shortened itself, he kicked it. His shoulders drooped as he returned to his van, making his way past us.
It became apparent that the ladder was part of a set, a pair in fact, and that he needed to get the other, slightly shorter bit, to fix to the other already at the pole to enable him to undo whatever did up the sign.
He struggled with the other ladder, one of the fixings refusing to cooperate. He stopped in his struggles, looked at the ground for a few seconds then, refreshed, he attacked the ladder again, finally releasing it but using so much energy that he struggled to keep his feet as it came free.
By now this little entertainment had encouraged those inside the pub to join us. We were all silent, just enjoying the drama, knowing, not only expecting, further revelations to come.
With one end of the ladder under his arm and the other again dragging along the road, he walked dejectedly back to the pole.
It was apparent that he was aware of the interest he’d awoken as he kept darting glances our way, always with a marked sneer.
Just as he was almost level with our little group the gay chap, pint in hand, said in a loud voice:
“Here, I say old chap, I think that ladder is too short as well.”
You had to be there as just reading it will not convey just how hilarious this was. The crowd, now some 20 strong, broke out into raucous laughter.
The chap with the ladder decided to remonstrate with us all, telling us that he was not getting any overtime, that the signs had been put too high and more, although after the first too complaints the cheering drowned him out.
He wandered off to the pole, connected the new top part of the ladder, placed it up against the pole, now comfortably exceeding the height necessary to reach the sign. He climbed up, undid the securing device, took possession of the sign to a round of applause and some cheering, climbed down and took the top ladder off the lower. All the time there were waves of laughter then, unaccountably, periods of silence while we all concentrated.
He came past with the ladders under his arms, bewilderingly neither dragging along the ground, in complete silence.
In the meantime, while we’d been concentrating on the removal process, the barmaid, more to come on her, had put a pint of cold beer on top of his van. This he drank in about three goes, then threw the glass over a low fence into a field, replaced the ladders under a torrent of laughter and cheers. He drove off. Cue applause.
Another time we were sitting outside the pub, again in lovely evening weather, when the barmaid, a fine figure of a young woman in the fashion of the time; short skirt and tight top, brought us our beers. All eyes were on her. She turned with a flounce of her skirt and went back inside the pub. The silence that her presence had forced on us was broken by our gay friend who said, in little more than a whisper: ‘She’s gorgeous.’
The sort of unofficial leader of our group, who’d gone to uni with him, said: ‘I didn’t think you liked that sort of thing.’
The rest of us must have looked embarrassed, the unmentionable had been broached. But he replied: ‘I know, but she’s got a gorgeous arse.’
We all laughed, any embarrassment relieved. It was not mentioned again. Shame.
I’ve never had the problem of being nervous around gays or even in any way anti. My attitude might be due to lethargy, but I’ve never seen any problem. I policed Brighton where it wasn’t even a factor. If I dealt with a couple who happened to be blokes, or women, it was of no account. Who cared? But . . .
I went to Moat Park in Maidstone. Given that my bladder is about to be worked on because something’s got big – a pin stuck in it in fact to see if even more indignities are to be thrust upon me – I have to visit toilets more frequently than most. There were three urinals. The one of the left was occupied so, as any bloke would do, at least someone of my age, I went to the one on the right leaving an empty one between us. Then shock, horror! It was the one for little boys, the bowl being about 9” lower.
I was in a quandary. I didn’t want to stay there, but I could not take a step to the left and use the urinal next to the bloke after I had gone to the one on the right first of all. I could not, of course, point out to the bloke that it was there for boys as no man starts a conversation in a toilet. I should have gone into a cubicle.
Perhaps I’m not so much of a modern man as I thought.