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Love in a time of phlegm and sinus trouble, Part One - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Love in a time of phlegm and sinus trouble, Part One


I have been ill for a week now, with one of my Summertide colds-or-’flus.  You will recall the Met’s having prophesied ‘a barbecue summer’?


As is customary when I am off-colour, my mind has ranged yet again back to days now gone.  In this instance, my recollections, I suspect, began with the uproar over Call-Me-Dave Cameroon’s gaffe.  (One of my favourite historians is D. Cameron Watt.  It is now tempting to call the next PM by something that rhymes.)  You may put me in the camp that agrees he must be regarded as merely unwary: I also have always known the term ‘twat’ to be used metaphorically only, for the precise designation of a person who is not best described as a poon, oik, twit, or berk. 


Meditating this point of usage, I recalled a youthful misadventure of mine own.  I was at school with a person who could not, with precision, properly be described as a poon, oik, twit, or berk, and whose name was something on the order of ‘Herbert Watson-Watt’ or thereabouts.[1]  It was therefore common, in the pursuit of taxonomic exactitude, to break the cæsura between his Christian and family names between the ‘r’ and the ‘t’: which quite adequately summed up part of the reasons why he was disdained, as ‘Herb-er’ was an apt forename for him.  It had been still more pointed had his name been ‘Robert’, I may add.  I incautiously once used his, ah, house-given name, Twatson-Twatt, thoughtlessly, in medias div, to a beak (it was maths, worse luck, where I was always hopelessly at sea).  He meditated consequences for a moment in the deathly hush that had fallen, and then murmured, ‘If I thought for one moment you’d the faintest knowledge of the item in question, I should be forced to regard that as impertinent.  As it is, your notorious innocence has saved you.  Don’t do it again.’


My notorious innocence; yes, well.  Nescience, perhaps.  For I have been remembering.  (If this sort of thing persists every time I’m a bit seedy, I shall be forced to be the least bit less contemptuous of Proust.)


The 1960s and 1970s were rather an interesting time, you realise.  Certainly they made an interesting period for those growing up gay.  Scandal and disgrace, blackmail and prosecution – well, you know the drill.  It is only fair, however, to note the dirty little secret that these Grave Issues were, as is absolutely everything else in Britain, class issues: scandal and prosecution commonly ensued only when class lines were crossed, and open secrets were common currency and politely ignored so long as class lines were not crossed.


As a result, there was a delicious sense of being part of an imperium in imperio, and there was a freedom from any pressure to declare an interest or adopt a non-fluid and permanent identity.  To the contrary: these were discouraged, tacitly, simply by The Way Things Were.  It had its compensations: discretion, shared secrets, and – as no one was being prompted to engage in Absolute Labels – considerable freedom, including freedom for lads who were not bent, who could (in all-male environments particularly) play freely and not concern themselves with identity crises: which was a happy thought for lads who were bent and wished to play with those who weren’t. 


And there I was, coming more or less of age, in the years in which every other week saw a period piece (in tights) showing off Michael York’s bum and tackle at their peak of ripeness; years that began with one’s being able happily to survey the arse of Leonard Whiting and ended with one’s being able to obsess over that of Nicholas Clay, all whilst other lads were drooling over Olivia Hussey and Cherie Lunghi, respectively: 1968 to 1981.


Innocence?  Well….


There were three chaps with whom I was at school, whom I called ‘the Normans’.  Mallalieu-de Bettancourt was in my house, a weedy chap in whom I had no lubricious interest, but something of a soul-mate in one area of concern (as Miss Sayers, Miss Pym, Miss Austen, and Miss Read have all noted, men compartmentalise their friendships): he was as fanatic for cricket as was (and am) I.  Being not only a Norman, but dowered with far more recent Frog relations, he was regularly to be heard bemoaning the impossibility of evangelising the French, who, perversely, refused to accept the gospel of cricket for all his fervent preaching.


Blanchard, by contrast, was a wet bob, whom I came to know through his combative acquaintance with Mallers.  To those who knew Blanchard only casually – or, rather, to those who did not come to know him intimately – his sole interests in life were rowing and whist.  To those who came to know him intimately, however, he was a wholly different youth.  Outside, if you will, he was diffident, monosyllabic, and one-dimensional: a fanatical wet bob with a passion for whist.  He was sleek – the word might have been invented for him – wholly sleek: dark-polled, blue-eyed, very fair of skin, so that he might shave before breakfast and have a blue jaw by tea.  His hands were long and hardened by rowing.  His people were rather more than commonly and scandalously divorced, and he had effectively been brought up – the only son – by doting and indulgent sisters.  He was known often to spend his hols abroad, mostly in Germany and in America.


Admitted to his intimacy, however, one found him changed.  The rower’s hands were supple on his wrists, fluid and fluent.  His startling eyes were made vivid by a touch of eye-makeup.  He fluted; and he addressed everyone as ‘babycakes’ and ‘sweetcakes’.  Yet he was even then still wholly male, if wholly camp, and the only reason he failed, if he did fail, in seducing me, was that I was busily engaged in seducing him.


I need hardly say it did not go terribly far.  I think I shocked him, actually.  As for why, I refer to the third of Duke William’s Norman lordlings, Erskine-Gonvilliers. 


E-G was a public school horn player.  In most respects, he was of the sub-genus Humph: witty, ironic, critical, cool.  Otherwise, he was athletic without effort or excitement, and altogether offhanded in the best traditions of jazz.  He had a keen, intellectual face, a wry air, a nice taste in fancy waistcoats (ahem), and the body of the Ludovisi Hermes Logios.  Which brings us to the facet of his school persona that was of the sub-genus Melly (if you accept for a moment that Stowe is a public school).


It was a summer night on the river – very Delius – and the bronze and berry-brown E-G and I were getting through a fair amount of strawberries and a dash of surreptitious Bollinger.  It’s thirty years gone, now, but it wasn’t a conversation one forgets.


‘Trying to fatten me?’


He sniggered.  ‘You could do with it, but, no.  Sweeten you, perhaps.’


‘I’m quite sweet enough.’


‘Yes, well, that’s rather the problem.’  We had stolen away from our respective sets of friends, by prearrangement.  ‘You’re a rum creature.’


‘Am I.’


‘Everyone thinks you innocent, you know, even those who damned well know better.  You’re a sodding contradiction, actually.  You look like a choirboy –’


‘I am in the choir.’


‘Yes, as a basso, when you look like a boy soprano.’




‘Do face facts, young one.  You’re a fluffy bunny.  Or – you look it.  And then you’re suddenly being clever and cutting and County.  You are clever, save when you’re utterly oblivious, and that’s mostly about emotions and social interactions.  A rum creature, I say again.  You’ve stiff defences, you know.  Baffles a chap, you being all blond and blue-eyed and cherubic – and a sinful old cynic of forty, mentally.  Mostly, it makes a chap want to be kind to you instead of having his wicked way.’


‘I’d noticed.’


‘Don’t fight it.  Look here, I do know a bit about your people, after all.  The beaks see you destined for All Souls, your mater – terrifying woman – expects you to be on the bench of bishops, your far more terrifying gran I suppose has already planned for your taking silk – and no one asks what you wish to do.  But I do know this, love.  You want monogamy, bread and cheese and kisses – and how you’ll have that and success in the public spotlight as well, I don’t know.  But that’s what you want, you know: you, bunnykins, were born for domesticity.  And what I might have planned on doing with you tonight won’t give you that.’


‘Waste of champers?’


‘Oh, no.  I don’t say there mayn’t be a bit of innocent fun.  But you may as well resign yourself to bringing out the protective side of even the most hardened rogues.’


‘And are you a hardened – I see you are….’


‘Oi, you little devil….’


In the end (ahem) I was eventually relieved of the last burdens of virginity shortly upon attaining eighteen years in age, efficiently, knowledgeably, and indeed handsomely, by a Royal Marine Other Rank at a louche gay club in town (I never knew his surname and have no reason to believe him to have been Welsh, but he’ll always be Cpl Rogers to me).


And then I went up to university. 


There was by now a change of tide: one could feel the undertow.  The apparent price of the Coming Dawn of Liberation was to be, one could already discern, a hardening of the lines, a new regime of labels and identity politics.


Fortunately, that day was not quite yet.




[1] Naturally, all names have been changed to shield the guilty.

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24 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 4th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I realise that you'd tagged these essays as boring self indulgence, but I found them fascinating, having gone through a similar process in the last decade.
(I do not think our politics match up all too well, but then I find precisely aligned politics monotonous. Much better to enjoy a sharp, well-written voice and some sporting antagonism.)
Thank you for writing and posting these. I cannot speak to your experience at university, having jumped over the pond for that, but I found your memories of school keenly and thoughtfully observed, and inclined to cast my mind back to mine own, which are rawer, younger beasts.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 4th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're very kind to say so.

Young, raw beasts ... yes; no doubt.

I'm greatly obliged for yr vy kind comment.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 5th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're very kind to say so.

I rowed, so... precisely.

Apologies for the anon. commenting - LJ is refusing to take my OpenID. It's most annoying.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 5th, 2011 06:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh, quite all right.

So you were a wet bob, were you? It does explain much. I refrain by main force from any cox jokes.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 5th, 2011 09:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, quite all right.

Indeed. Dry bob, I presume? The fixation on men in whites would be explained, I suppose. I assure you that any cox jokes made would be ones already heard, and so fall on thick and insulated ears. The application of main force seems excessive.

And thank you for your understanding re the lack of face. The alternate forms of identification available are not pseudonymous. Showing up sans mask would be a bit like appearing at a masquerade bare-faced.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 5th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Dry bob so far as one's anything.

Preferred minor sports, actually, in a way.

And if there's any bugger alive who understands the imperatives of pseudonymity, c'est moi, bien sur.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 6th, 2011 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dry bob so far as one's anything.

I've several dear friends that way inclined. A positive embarrassment of riches to be had.

Many thanks for the understanding, though I must admit I'm tempted to just drop you a line sans face since I suspect the correspondence would be fruitful. Or at least mutually amusing.

This evening had me reading a pamphlet on Colours. It left me with very mixed feelings. Also, any knowledge of the Dragonflies? Or their formation? Several of my friends and I are debating the merits of any sort of entanglement with them.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 6th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Sadly, my love for cricket has always exceeded my skill.

Beagling, squash, Fives, and polo (no. 4) were much less embarrassing.... (Shooting, angling, and fencing of course one was already expected to pursue.)

I'm always wary of any innovation, and the Dragonflies are terribly new, aren't they. (Bugger. Another Aussie four. 100/2.) I've a sneaking suspicion, no doubt quite unfounded, that it may thus far consist largely of Vikings and Old Choristers ... sorry, couldn't resist. I really do want to find out more, m'self; I'll try and find out more, and let you know if I do.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 6th, 2011 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sadly, my love for cricket has always exceeded my skill.

Ah. A sound list, though I've something of a prejudice against polo as it is my maternal grandfather's sport, and he's a bit of stiff going. (Angling is something I've only taken to long after leaving, and then thanks to the delights of fishing for bass in darkest Maine.) Hand and eye coordination has never been my thing, so rowing it was. Mercifully I am at least competent with a rifle, though a gun is utterly wasted on me.

Ah, but societal innovation is fine by me, my exposure to such having been pleasant so far. Then again, setting up societies with one's friends is a much surer business. I'm sure your suspicions are well-founded enough - though I've found that such things skip years amongst the wet bobs I know. Choristers, now... I am pursuing my own enquiries. Let us compare notes another time.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 11th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sadly, my love for cricket has always exceeded my skill.

And what a surprise - my set and I are now the junior most members of the Facebook group. I expect anecdotes to follow.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 11th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, dear.

I for one am still striving to imagine the reactions of elderly cutters at New & Lingwood to an order for Pride merchandise.

And are we quite certain we're properly gay? Eton blue and that rather unpleasant silvery-rosy-dusty-mauve really do NOT work for me.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 11th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, dear.

A run of buggery jokes one imagines. I do hope there's not Pride kitsch. Done one pride so far, and then I wound up marching with the Army (US) lot. Less blinding colours.

Given some of the hideous colours already in circulation, I count myself lucky to have got off with various attached to the Boat Club, the Vikings, and a sedate green and grey.

I am still struggling with the first name Piers.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 16th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

I see why you'd struggle.

Morgan's not helping, I shd think.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 17th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I see why you'd struggle.

Indeed not, especially as he has leaped neatly into American media.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 17th, 2011 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

A frightening thought.

But then, they deserve one another.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 17th, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: A frightening thought.

But the airwaves over here scarcely need to import vipers. I'd much prefer them to drive the domestic ones out.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 17th, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

All those Irish...

... and no St Patrick?
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 18th, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: All those Irish...

As yet, no saints descending on the land. Give me an Easterner from the desert rather than those Western fops. They deal much better with venomous humanity.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 19th, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)


I understand that camel-hair blazers are fashionable in the US, for starters, and there are odder diets there than locusts and honey.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 19th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: John?

Not so much with the New Testament - I was thinking generally of late antiquity, and particularly of St. Moses the Ethiopian. Although any Desert Father would do.
I've never seen a camel-hair blazer, but then I'm not in the right and proper heartlands.
Locusts and honey always sounded self-indulgent to me. Candied insects - I believe fashionable sweet shops sell such things?
Bread and water is the proper diet of an ascetic. It's the lack of olive oil and salt which makes it painful.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 19th, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

I imagine...

... that dealing with this lot shd make Anthony the Abbot, Anthony the Apoplectic.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 20th, 2011 01:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I imagine...

I'm not so sure. Those early monasteries made a whorehouse look like a genial, ungossipy environment.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: January 20th, 2011 07:47 am (UTC) (Link)

If Anthony's famous for anything, mind ...

... it was Resisting Temptation.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 23rd, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: If Anthony's famous for anything, mind ...

and leaving in his wake a trail of regimented monks. Almost typed mink, which would have suggested something else entirely.
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