Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 12

Saturday to Tuesday

Packing and making a bundle of the things I couldn't squeeze into my imitation leather holdall took four minutes. By nine o'clock the room was clean, my bag was in the Hockey's spare room, and Sean [Mr. Hockey] was brewing tea. His wife had been up since dawn and after a quick peck on Sean's cheek and a cautionary nod at me, she stumped up the stairs to the waiting taxi.

Sean's wheelchair didn't confine him to the house, but bureaucracy confined him to the immediate neighbourhood. He could haul himself up the stairs to the street with a block and tackle of his own design, and propel himself to the corner shop, but there were few wheelchair ramps off curbs or into shops, no disabled toilets, and no hope of using public transport on his own.

At the walk-through with the Mays that afternoon, I demanded amber filters in half-dimmed Fresnel spots illuminating the twelve-foot diameter semicircle in front of the piano. My faded tan would disappear completely under white light and I'd look as attractive as a witchetty grub. Pasty as a Pom! Performing for a clutch of cognoscenti sitting within touching distance was going to be confronting enough. I hoped a healthy amber glow would distract from the lack of technique and other gross inadequacies in my dancing.

When I returned, I took Sean down to the Thames to see the low-tide mudflats and houseboats rotting in slime. Although his shoulders and upper arms would have graced Mr. Universe, curbs and other obstacles meant he hadn't seen the river for years, as people strong or willing enough to drag a wheelchair up onto footpaths and lower it down onto roads were thin on the ground.

Typically, it rained on the way back so we arrived home freezing and soaked. Sean ran a hot bath, undressed, and let me lift him in. He could manoeuvre himself on and off his wheel chair from his bed, on and off the toilet, even into a bath on his own, but unlike many disabled people didn't mind being helped. I was amazed at how little he weighed! Legs make up about half our weight, apparently.

The other astounding thing was lack of buttocks. The gluteus maximus is for standing upright and walking, Sean did neither so his bum had withered away – he had to sit on an aircushion to prevent bruising his pelvis. I got in the other end of the gigantic tub and lay back, luxuriating in the heat. We agreed that his lack of legs made it much easier to fit two, and I was able to examine his stumps.

The left thigh had been sawn off just below the groin, the other just above the knee; very neat, smooth and clean. His legs hadn't been blown off; all he'd suffered were deep gashes. It was infection that did the damage. Had he received his wounds a few months later, penicillin would have stopped the infection and he'd still have two functioning legs. At that time amputation was the only way to save his life, and accounted for the lack of limbs on so many ex-soldiers.

After a light meal, I had a nervous shit and an intensive once over with a sponge dipped in aftershave to ensure the sweet-smelling purity of all orifices. At eight I jogged to my rendezvous with the Colonel's cultured cohorts.

The other three performers were already twitching nervously on an ottoman in a small office accessed from a door behind the piano, or via the kitchen. They were in their late 20s, had studied their crafts, and already performed privately for gatherings like this while waiting for professional recognition. Smiles of greeting mutated to wide-eyed alarm as I stripped, rubbed on a little scented oil and applied makeup. Having anticipated their questions, I was more or less prepared.

The pianist broke the silence with a shocked, "You're dancing naked?"


"Why?" from the jazz singer.

"A naked body is a unity. Clothing breaks the line."

"But… your genitals are exposed."

"So are my nipples, knees and ears."

"But… shouldn't you cover them?"


"They'll jiggle around and look silly," the pianist giggled.

"Or natural."

"And you've shaved…"

"To preserve the unity of line."

"I adore Unity!" That was the poetess – dreamy. "You are right… unity is harmony. I think it's beautiful. I try to make my poems harmonious unities…" She drifted into rapturous mumbles, gazing at my groin, suddenly letting loose a great whinny of excitement. "I've never dared to look properly at a man's… things before!" She sighed rapturously. "It's so… so liberating! I'm going to write an ode – to the penis!"

"Don't forget the balls," said the jazz singer wryly.

"My body is my instrument," I explained somewhat pompously. "What if poets were forbidden to use any word starting with 'L'? Or pianists had to avoid using middle C?"

He nodded sagely, unsure if it was quite the same thing.

"I get it," said the singer. "It's like if I wasn't allowed to use the full range of my voice?"


"Then I agree. After all, dancers in tights are virtually naked."

They nodded self-consciously, incredulous that I wasn't, like them, ashamed of my bits. Looking back I'm incredulous that I dared. Not that I dared to be naked, but that I dared to improvise dances. I guess it was the same ignorance that had me asking for a job at a West End Theatre. Fools rush in. But if I hadn't been so innocent I'd have missed a lot of fun.

We left the door to the drawing room ajar so we could hear and see a little of each other's performances. The pianist was excellent. I've never understood jazz, so didn't appreciate it as much as the audience did. The poems just seemed a jumble of phrases. They all received heart-warming applause.

Dionysius was announced, the music started and, heart pounding fit to burst, I leaped in, mind blank, allowing the ballet music from the last act of Mozart's Idomeneo to be transformed into movement more or less by reflex – the conscious brain having nothing to do with it – at least that's what it feels like.

Too soon, it was over and, bathed in amber light, I accepted applause from dinner suits, shimmering evening dresses, diamonds and tiaras. Poppy and Bertie were in the second row, mouths split in wide grins. Mind you, after an hour of cocktail swigging they'd have applauded a dancing pig.

All three dances were well received, and after the final, which finished artistically, not crudely as it had in rehearsal, I was towelling off in the dressing room when the Colonel arrived carrying several cards bearing a name and telephone number. These were offers of employment from members of the audience.

The pianist got half a dozen, the singer a couple, and the poetess, like me, only one. We were given our money and the others were seen off through the kitchen door. I was allowed to collapse onto the ottoman to cool off and let the sweat dry. Depression loomed. Actors want their brief moments of glory to go on forever. The end of every show seems like the end of life.

The Colonel was wearing a condescending smirk. "That went quite well, Rigby – at least one person wants you to perform for them, and there's someone else who wants to meet you. A business acquaintance so I could scarcely refuse to introduce you. However, you owe him nothing so it won't be rude for you to refuse his request."

Talk about firing up the imagination. Was I going to be invited to perform at the London Palladium? Dance for the Queen? The Colonel beckoned in a swarthy chap of indeterminate age, introducing him as Sheik something-or-other.

There had been much public debate about Arab money taking over England. Middle Eastern puppet despots had decided the profits from oil were theirs, not their subjects, and were spending up big. Several Oxford Street department stores had surreptitiously changed hands, as well as racehorse studs, grand hotels, country estates and other businesses. Stories abounded of wealthy oil sheiks taking whole floors of the Dorchester, the Ritz, Grosvenor House… for their entourages and harems, and several films of a comic nature had exploited the theme.

The short, dumpy, sweaty, dinner-suited sheik ignored my outstretched hand, instead reaching with hirsute paws to grasp at my shoulders; staring up my nostrils as if assessing a camel. I stared back. The whites of his eyes were brown, the skin pockmarked, and a baroque beard and moustache framed unpleasantly moist, full lips that rasped, "I want to fuck you."

To underline his intentions, the height-challenged fellow ran clammy palms over my chest, felt the stubble and recoiled as if from a plate of pork. "But… you are not smooth! I want a smooth boy!" Turning on his heel he stalked out, leaving the Colonel to splutter.

"Dreadfully sorry, old chap." He said softly; a glint of amusement in his eyes, the first natural human expression he'd exhibited, and asked, "Would you have let him?"


"For a hundred quid?"

"No way… too old; too repellent!"

"Do you…?"

As it was clear he had known the sheik's proclivities before introducing him and was not upset by the notion, I answered negligently, "I have done."

"How much?"

"Twenty guineas." It was the first number that popped into my head.

He whistled. "Top league, eh?"

I shrugged.

He handed me an envelope containing the money for my performance, then opened his wallet and took out two ten-pound notes, flapping them in the air.

I shook my head.

He rummaged in his fob pocket and produced a florin and a leer. "That makes Twenty guineas. Or am I also too old and ugly?"



"What about your guests?"

"I'll not be missed for a while."

What could I say? It seemed churlish to refuse, and now he'd dropped the arrogant aristocrat act, he was quite pleasant. Ex-military lean, not bad looking… I shrugged indifferent assent, determined not to fuel his vanity. He popped the extra cash in the envelope, thrust me back onto the ottoman, then slowly removed all his clothes. It was a performance of sorts during which he seemed unjustifiably proud of an erection about the size of my little finger, with balls to match.

Like most men he was interested in one thing only – his own pleasure. Within a minute I was on my back, legs in the air, oiled up and he was pounding away. There was no pain, no sensation at all apart from mild discomfort occasioned by my undignified position and his pounding hips. I don't think it touched the sides.

He thrashed around, heaving and grunting, eventually culminating in a sigh of heartbreaking proportions. At that moment Mrs. May put her head around the door.

"Felix, they are asking for you! Do hurry up." She glanced at me. "A good performance, Dionysius," and was gone.

Her husband withdrew and lay panting beside me.

"Doesn't she mind…?"

"She has a guardsman whose tool rivals that of his horse." He gazed down affectionately at his own appendage. "I'm happy with mine… gets up and stays up. Do you think it's too small?" There was no suggestion he cared – merely curiosity. I told him it was perfect – which it was for me, being a tight-arse who dislikes visitors at the back door. We dressed.

Sadly, his snootiness returned with his clothes so I rejected him as a potential sugar daddy. After a smug glance in the mirror he hustled me out through the kitchen like a stray dog, with a curt reminder to be waiting downstairs at 8.00 p.m. the following Tuesday. I felt amused, not abused. Twenty guineas for lying on my back for ten minutes? He'd been had!

Sunday was clear and cool, no rain in sight, so after a quick mop along the corridors and a wipe of the bathrooms, I pushed Sean through Sloane Square, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, across Rotten Row where we spent a few minutes admiring the horse riders, and then let him propel himself among the still skeletal trees of Hyde Park.

It wasn't all altruism. Wheelchairs in those days were heavy things with hard wheels and no suspension; constructed of wood and steel. Very different from the modern lightweight, collapsible, pneumatic tyred vehicles that the disabled can manoeuvre with such dexterity. Pushing and dragging the thing was perfect for toning up my chest and shoulders.

Sandwiches and a thermos of coffee tasted great on a hired rowboat on the Serpentine, having padlocked the wheelchair to the railings, then an 'oom pah pah' brass band in the Kensington Gardens rotunda with not a microphone or amplifier in sight, rounded off a perfect afternoon. Sean had been excellent company. Interested, interesting, never complaining. Simple tastes, like me.

I went dancing that night at the old club – no Suzie, but chatted with a Brazilian as crazy about dancing as I, only much better – loose-limbed, supple and smooth. I felt like a wooden marionette beside him. When he discovered I was an opera fan he offered to sell me a ticket to Il Trovatore on Thursday night – his mate had broken a leg or something. A cheap seat in the gods, so I jumped at the chance, paying for it then and there.

I'd just fallen asleep that night when a great howling had me leaping from my cot and rushing in to see who was murdering Sean. He was having one of his nightmares – more like an epileptic fit. Blankets on the floor, him cold and shaking. I drew up the blankets and climbed in to warm him quickly. Stroking and muttering calming nonsense eventually quietened him.

After about five minutes he came to his senses and apologised. I returned to bed glad he didn't know I was a bit of a queer, otherwise he'd have imagined ulterior motives.

Heterosexuals are pathetic like that. Paranoid. Think they're irresistible and every homo wants to have sex with them. Perhaps because they aren't too fussy when it comes to fucking, they think we're the same, whereas in most cases there's no one more choosey than a queer. He was nice, but nearly as old as my father!

After breakfast the next morning, looking as fit as a fart, he asked if I wanted to go to a Turkish bath. It seemed a good idea as I was wilting somewhat, not having enjoyed my essential eight hours of sleep.

Until about forty or so years ago, British local authorities provided public bathhouses where the locals who had no baths – and that was about half – could go and scrub up. For the princely sum of two shillings, you had half an hour in a huge tub filled to the brim with wonderfully hot water, a large soft towel, and soap.

The bathhouses I went to in London were vast – scores of cubicles serviced by aloof attendants; everywhere steam and noise and the sweet smell of soap, cleanliness and warmth. I loved them. You didn't even have to clean the bath afterwards!

In the same complex was usually a large tepid swimming pool – men and women on alternate days – making togs unnecessary. Upstairs you could often find a gymnasium, and at the rear, a Turkish bath replete with steam rooms, dry rooms with 'Eastern' style vaulted ceilings, plastic couches, massage room, cooling-off lounge, and private cubicles.

Unfortunately, as people installed baths in their houses and flats, the bathhouses disappeared. Then newer, more glamorous private swimming pools opened, offering mixed bathing every day, forcing the closure of cheaper public pools. Private saunas then took clients from the magnificent Turkish baths, and an era vanished; mourned only by the few who value the good things of the past, and those women and men who would love to swim, but for various and valid reasons don't want to exhibit their bodies to the opposite sex.

Sean directed me past vast, eight-storey, dirty-grey tenements of Dickensian horror. Tiny windows, netting-enclosed tarsealed 'exercise' areas, rubbish, decay, decrepitude, despair. It looked like a prison, but was the Peabody Estate, one of many such horrifying slums owned by the Anglican Church who were, Sean informed me, the largest slum landlords in England.

The notice on the doors said: "Male War Wounded, Mondays 1.00p.m. – 4.00p.m." The seriously disfigured did not like to parade their wounds in public. Some came from nursing homes and were attended by carers, some were on their own, some accompanied by a friend or relative.

We stripped – no togs required. I carried him to the pool and threw him in. He bobbed like a cork. No legs to sink him. He could swim like an otter and raced me easily. Afterwards we took a Turkish bath, and while Sean had his free massage, I chatted to a group of war wounded men.

Not one miserable moaning man, yet many of the wounds were dreadful. Great holes in chests, thighs, buttocks, stomachs. Half a face missing. Legless, armless, missing genitals… all were maimed, but on Monday afternoons for a few hours they threw off their fear of ridicule and no one pitied them or wept insincere tears; here they were normal men again. French war-wounded are called Mutilés de Guerre. Mutilated. A much more accurate word than wounded.

Europe was awash with such misery. However, it was the destruction of their cities that converted them to pacifism. The U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand have suffered similar human casualties in their endless foreign wars, yet remain warmongers. The unpleasant inference being that only the destruction of civic infrastructure is a deterrent – soldiers are expendable.

That evening I telephoned the number on the card the Colonel had given me after the performance. A woman wanted me to dance and model for her "Life" classes. When I told her I was leaving London the following Saturday, she insisted I retain her card and call her when I returned, as I was exactly the sort of young man she was seeking to broaden her pupils' horizons. Sounded odd, but it felt good to be wanted, and even better when Sean invited me for a pub meal.

After a few beers (I stuck to ginger ale) he confessed that his wife had never been able to accept the amputations. She loved him, but they hadn't had sex since his return. I was deeply shocked. He was legless, but still handsome and fun. The wounds were neat and clean. He admitted, with a sly look of hope, that he wouldn't mind going to a whore.

I had to pick up my new suit in Charing Cross Road on Thursday, so promised we'd go for a wander and see what turned up. Unlike today, newspaper personals did not have columns of ads for sex-workers.

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