I didn't get through school, careful as I was, without being outed. Some of the explanation will sound weird, though.
I guess you need to understand a British Public School in the 1960s to know what was going on. Well, you need to understand mine at least. It features as a kind of film set in at least one of the stories, too. "Nice Try!" is a kind of amalgam of present day and late 1960s, and has the location in full, but with just sufficient minor amendments to keep the cognoscenti guessing. Anyway, at my school it was actually fashionable to be seen to "fancy" a younger boy. This was pre December 1967, pre legalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in private, pre age of consent dropping even to 18, let alone 16 as it almost is in the UK in may 2001.
The younger boys who were the objects of the "fashionable fancying" were always the good looking ones. With one exception in my house, a doe eyed, long lashed, freckle faced boy who even acted like a bitch on heat without being aware of what he was doing, all of these boys were blond, blond, blond. Well, if you went there and know different, then write to me and tell me about your experience. We may have a lot in common! Some of them even congregated around one teacher who took the swimming team's practice session. Hmmm!
Well, if you've got your head round the idea of almost declaring "love", well, lust at least, for a younger and pretty boy in an institution that was also homophobic, then you'll see the paradox of our existence. For the older boys who were str8 this was a simple macho thing. Confident in their sexuality, they were able to say "Oh yes, I love David Rice. He's so beautiful." And when they said it people laughed with them, and somehow knew they were joking, even if they spent a lot of time hanging about with David Rice; even if they seemed to spend unusual amounts of time together; even if that time was spent in the boxroom getting changed for games.
For those of us who weren't str8 it was agony. We could declare the same lusts, but somehow I'm sure we had a different look in our eyes. Today with NLP (look it up elsewhere, coz a treatise on NLP this isn't) I'd be able to recognise the difference and even attribute reasons to it, and get very close. Then, pre NLP we knew instinctively when something was different
So, that sets the scene. Quite an odd scene. Rampant homophobia, older boys declaring fake (or were they??) grand passions for younger boys, communal showers, innocence and yet lack of innocence.
Now anyone who has read my life story will know I was head over heels in love with John. You'll know that John and I shared my first four years at the school, and you'll know that, apart from engraving "I love John" on desks and making a total fool of myself, that I never told him. You can see John here in the montage. My favourite picture is the one with his hands on his lapels. John always played the clown in photographs. All except that one were taken from group "House Photographs". While I was in love with him, I also found I'd noticed very clearly the star of "Wotcha Bennett!" Well, I base my stories on reality, tinged with hope! He was a very real person, was Paul Metcalf. He was born four years after me. I shared my final two years at the school with his first two years. He was as strikingly beautiful in life as I've tried to paint him in the story. And that story is 100% true until the bus ride, when it turns to fantasy. Oddly I don't truly know if his first name is Paul. But I imagined it, and it suited him. The pictures don't do him justice, he looks so serious, so demore. He was never demure.
To be fashionable you had to have a "little boy". Well among the group in my house you had to, at least. Come to that in my class it was fashionable too. We were all needing sex anyway, and I'm pretty sure that some of us were actually enjoying each other, though I never found out who I could enjoy! Anyway I only had eyes for John, and now for Paul. One day, in my final year, we were in the prefects' study, and reading horoscopes in the papers.
I always read John's, Sagittarius, Fraser's (oh yes, he existed, too), Scorpio, and Paul's, Gemini. "Hey, pass the paper. I want to read my "little boy's" horoscope. We all did it. All. We did it quite often. And it was no big deal. I know it sounds daft, but it was no big deal.
Instead of passing the paper, the mate holding it said "I'll read it to you. What is it?"
I wasn't going to admit to my true love, John. Fraser was in the same house and only a year below, and I certainly wasn't going to admit to his starsign because my "mate" was too close to him, so I said "Gemini". He read out the Gemini horoscope.
Then "Who is it?" he asked me.
I fucked up here. I got embarrassed, went read and said "I'm not saying." Or something like that. Total idiot, I'd just effectively confessed that whoever this kid was I actually did fancy him.
We had alphabetical lists of all the pupils with their birthdates. He went through the list in front of me, looking for all the Geminis. There was not a single beautiful Gemini except Paul Metcalf. Not one. You'd think the gods would have smile don me and given me some chance at ambiguity, some chance to say "well, it's one of those three," and stay in the shadows.
Not a hope.
"It's Metcalf!" He said it with glee. Arrow straight and into my soul. "It's Metcalf!" And his face was like a hunter who has just made a kill. My face must have given it away. I was sitting deep in an old armchair, and very red in the face. And about five others were in the room.
I made a brave stab at getting away with it. "Of course it is! I wouldn't be so daft as to fancy an ugly kid, now would I?"
He wasn't to be stopped.
I'm going to use my pen name of "Tom Lane" here to give you the initials of "TL" for what he did next. I'm going to be "Tom Lane" when I get Chris and Nigel published, if I ever do manage.
He took a large, fluorescent purple felt marker, with a fat nib, stood on a chair, and write on the emulsion paint on the study walls, in letters a foot high "TL loves Metcalf"
TL Loves Metcalf
Not once. Again, and again, and again, and again. Huge purple letters on the emulsion paint, soaking into the paint, no possibility of washing them off, no possibility of obliterating them with a coat of paint. Huge, purple and on fire. Taking the arrow in my heart and twisting it then pulling it out with the barbs. Evil purple letters.
And me, what was I doing?
I was sitting in the armchair, facing his handiwork, growing cold inside. Freezing cold, though the day was summer. And I knew I had two choices.
- Kill him
- Laugh it off
Killing him was very tempting. But it would have made it true. It would have said to the world "Yes, Tom Lane does indeed love Paul Metcalf". I couldn't afford that. If that had got out my parents would have sent me to be cured. And cure meant electric shock "therapy". So I had to laugh.
I had to sit there and laugh at the very funny joke.
I had to sit there and congratulate him on his outing me, and watch as he wrote it again and again and again and again. I had to laugh while I was dying inside. I genuinely wanted to kill him. If I'd had a knife I would have killed him then and there. Instead I laughed and laughed.
And died inside.
And then I had a major problem.
The ink was soaked into the walls. And there was no way of getting it off. I suggested that enough was enough and that he try to erase it. He did try. But the marker was permanent. The housemaster had free access to the study. He would see what was there. And there was nothing I could do about it except to pray he wouldn't come in for the rest of that day. I already had a plan for the following day.
On my way home I nearly didn't get home. I cycled to school. Five miles each way in heavy traffic. I'd decided not to get home. I'd decided to turn my bike under the wheels of a truck and die. It would look like a tragic accident. No-one would know I'd killed myself. No shame for my parents, no note, no fuss. Just a kid who'd been hit by a truck on his way home from school.
As each truck went past I was thinking "the next one." But I was also thinking that if I died would never see John again. And I wanted to see him one last time. So I got home. My parents never noticed anything about me. They never noticed I was in despair that night. All they saw was a kid cutting out pictures from magazines, picture after picture. And the next morning they saw me go to school very early.
I covered all the words with pictures. They were there underneath, but invisible. I told the bastard who'd done it that I'd saved his backside from major punishment. And I left the words under the pictures. They were still covered when I left that school.
They knew, though. They kept sending Paul to see me with things or with messages. Kept teasing me. Kept doing it. Whenever he was sent to see me they all left the room to "Give you some privacy". They all knew.
And I cared.
And, just sometimes, even today, even though I left that monstrous place in December 1970, I still care. I care that, when the pictures were taken down, or fell down, that people I had known and had liked and respected saw
TL Loves Metcalf
on the walls beneath the magazine pictures. I care a lot. But I can't do anything about it.
As for Paul, I saw him on TV many years later. On a TV talent show. I recognised the name, and the age, but not the face. His hair was still beautiful, is still beautiful, and his eyes are as clear and piercing as I remember them. He just isn't as beautiful as I remember him. I never told him I was gay either. I wonder if... But it doesn't matter now. Mind you he probably saw "I love Metcalf" engraved on every desk I ever sat at. I know others did. One mentioned it to me.