Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 13

Tuesday to Friday Night

Although I had no idea who I'd be working for or where I'd be performing that night, I trusted the Mays and wasn't worried. As for Sean, despite spending five days with him, I had no idea what he would think about such things, so in an effort to discover more I said I'd been asked to dance in a 'g'-string for some wealthy people; what did he reckon?

He chewed on his lip for a bit, then asked why I would do such a thing.

"Thirty quid!"

"You'd be selling your body. No better than a prostitute." This, from the man who was intending to visit a whore!

"What's wrong with prostitutes?"

"Where there's prostitution, there's crime, drugs, and worse!"

"Not my exp… I mean, not always!" This was getting a bit personal.

"If you participate in filth, you'll become filthy."

"Come on! I'd only be dancing nearly naked. Anyway, why's prostitution different from a labourer selling his body as a builder?"

"Because it's sex."

"What's wrong with sex?"

"You know perfectly well!" he snapped.

I didn't, but Sean was ready to patch this gap in my education. "An obsession with sex caused the collapse of the Roman Empire! I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I know right from wrong!"

I wasn't sure what a Catholic was, except I'd been told that if Catholics didn't have loads of children the priests would harass them. Methodist Sunday School had taught me nothing useful or interesting. Catholics were as uninteresting to me as Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, or any other religion.

On Sunday mornings Mother sometimes went to the local Methodist church because although she rejected the prim and intolerant bigotry, she loved singing. Occasionally I kept her company. Once when I said how incomprehensible the sermon was, she'd laughed.

"Oh! You mustn't listen! He's a dried-up old stick who's never lived, telling us how we should live."

I'd listen to the drone of blowflies, watch dust motes, inhale Mother's eau de violet, and join in the singing – but only if it was cold and wet. If it was sunny I'd be at the beach. Sitting indoors on a beautiful day is an insult to life.

My moral education hadn't been neglected, however. 'Treat others as you would like to be treated' had been drummed into me from birth. It makes sense and I've no regrets and tried to live by the motto, 'At least do no harm'. I've had as good a life as anyone can expect and seldom been swindled. As for what I value: - loving and being loved, nature, interesting work, independence, health, and thrift.

Perhaps because he was at heart a puritan and therefore obsessed with sex, Sean had read a great deal about decadent societies and regaled me with lurid tales of debauchery. According to him, the Victorians were even more dissolute than the Romans, and to make matters worse, this depravity stemmed from royalty!

He had an Irishman's distrust of the English monarchy, and with mordant relish informed me that Queen Victoria's Prince Albert had been an enthusiastic participant in orgies, starting a fashion for nipple piercing and ball and cock rings! I decided not to inflame his ire by revealing that I'd recently been an unwitting disciple of Albert. Instead, I praised his moral rectitude, thanked him for his warning, and set off for the Mays' – imagination ablaze with tales of noble lust.

In the taxi, I sat on the jump seat while the Mays ignored me. It is tempting to dismiss the overweening arrogance of the British upper classes as foolishness, but that would be a grave mistake. They know exactly what they are about – maintaining their social and fiscal advantages. As we pulled up at the house, Mrs. May turned her gaze on me and said quietly, "You do not know us, and if you tell anyone about this evening, or your dalliance with the Colonel, you will regret it for life."

Her smile merely added acid as she continued, "Your performance tonight will be good, because I have promised our hosts it will be good."

My guts froze. However, before I could leap from the taxi in panic and escape, a firm hand squeezed my upper thigh. "See you after the show," said the Colonel with an easy smile as if it had been prearranged. Before I could respond he was out and opening the door for his wife.

She fixed me with a basilisk stare; hissed, "Be discreet!" then took her husband's arm like any loving wife as they walked demurely towards the front door of a large, redbrick, Hampstead villa.

An elderly gentleman ushered me through to a semi-circular conservatory attached to the rear of the house. Bamboo blinds ensured privacy, and luxuriant exotic plants created a jungle-like atmosphere. A small stage against the house wall was surrounded by about 20 cane armchairs with floral pillows. The warm, humid air felt like summer at home. The sound of cultured laughter, the clink of glasses and elegant voices drifted through open French windows to our right.

I was taken up a short flight of stone steps at the rear of the stage, through French doors into a dressing room, where I was introduced to three young women and two men of about my age. The girls were attractive, but indistinguishable. One of the men was a West Indian; loose-limbed, fuzzy-haired, with a mouthful of white teeth. The other looked like an adolescent choirboy. Smooth, clear skin, straight light brown hair hanging over hazel eyes, generous mouth and angelic demeanour. They were politely uninterested in me. We all stripped, checked ourselves for cleanliness in an adjoining bathroom, oiled up, and waited on chairs overlooking the conservatory, concealed from the audience a few feet blow by a row of pot plants.

The spectators, dressed for a cocktail party, drifted to their seats carrying drinks, chattering, at ease, comfortable with themselves and their companions. There was no music. Concealed lighting bathed the conservatory in a golden glow. I was the ice-breaker, to be followed by one of the girls, then the choirboy and his partner, finishing with the West Indian and his girl. A mixed-race coupling – very daring when Letters to the Editor were riddled with complaints about the influx of West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis lowering the tone of the nation.

All eyes turned to me as I negotiated the steps down onto the stage, feeling much more nervously excited than I had before dancing at the May's. There, I'd had music to act as a script, and I knew I could dance – sort of.

But could I get an erection? I thrust the thought away, took a deep breath, relaxed and let my autopilot take over. So what if it didn't work? I'd never see these people again and the experience was worth it. After that, it's all a blur. I remember smiling to myself and stretching like a cat before running light fingers across nipples, belly and thighs; my 'unseeing' eyes roving dreamily above the heads of the circle of elegant spectators lounging almost within touching distance.

I could hear them breathe, swallow, shift in their seats, and clear their throats. I smelled perfume; saw the hands of a man in the front row tremble; a woman licking her lips – eyes fixed on my erection. The ambience was sultry, tense, expectant, arousing, and extraordinarily intimate.

It was a silent performance, physically demanding, explicit, and I hoped artistic; culminating in a creditable cascade – back arched as if suffering a tetanus spasm. The thought made me laugh, the spell broke, and the audience clapped reasonably enthusiastically.

As I skipped back up the steps I noticed Mrs. May sitting next to an ugly, bullish young fellow, while the Colonel sat some distance away next to a similar military type. And I was supposed to be discreet! Back in the dressing room, the elderly gentleman gave me my envelope of cash and said, "Well done. Contact me if you want further work." His card was in the envelope.

I dressed and watched the others and didn't feel too outdone until the West Indian thrilled everyone by doing the 'limbo' – a popular game at parties at that time. Very sexy shimmying under a stick held about a foot above the floor, his ten-inch penis dragging across the stage beneath him. He then picked up his partner, carried her around to exhibit her intimate bits, turned her to face him and lowered her onto his instrument, eventually letting go and strutting round the stage. We'd all read about a fellow doing it in Fanny Hill, a book still banned at that time in Britain but available in France – but to see it live was brilliant.

A surge of happiness engulfed me. I felt clean, refreshed, contented and, as I said to the 'choirboy' – "I'd have done it for nothing."

He pulled a face. "You wouldn't say that if you'd had to endure that smelly slut," nodding at the girl he'd just fucked. I was surprised, as she looked ok. His comment stuck in my head, though, and reinforced a determination never to have sex with someone I didn't find pleasant. It was too precious an experience to waste.

The audience drifted back inside and the elderly gentleman gave a diplomatic cough and beckoned me to follow him to an upstairs bedroom decorated like an army tent, where I was instructed to shower and prepare myself in the adjoining bathroom. The Colonel arrived, showered, then joined me on the huge bed after depositing another twenty guineas in my envelope. The sex took much longer this time, and there were no interruptions. He was an experienced lover, very gentle and well versed in foreplay. To my surprise I enjoyed it.

A taxi was waiting and I was home by 12:30, where I slept the sleep usually reserved for those for whom virtue is its own reward.

Wednesday morning was given over to scrubbing and polishing the stairs and hallways, after which I got stuck into the bathrooms and toilets so Mrs. Hockey would have nothing to complain about when she returned on Saturday. At lunchtime, I ran into Heather at the mail table; the first time I'd seen her since she'd 'raped' me. She raised an eyebrow in unsmiling silence. A surge of pity for the girl loosened my tongue. I was going away so what the heck – I'd be honest.

"I'm leaving on Saturday. Got a job."


"Yes. Look, I unintentionally misled you. I only wanted to be friends, not lovers because, you see…"

My courage vaporised and suddenly I wasn't certain I was queer. Perhaps she simply wasn't the right one? Perhaps it was only nerves. Perhaps it was only a temporary condition? "You see,' I explained lamely, "I never know how long I'll be staying anywhere, so it's unfair to start a relationship and…"

Tossing her head to show she had no interest in my excuses she said with the hint of a sneer, "Enjoy your acting… you're very good at it." Trembling with relief at the ease of my escape, I admired her straight back and proud head as she walked away.

Thursday was also easier than I'd anticipated. Sean accepted the first prostitute to wiggle her tits at us. As she wasn't put off by the idea of servicing a legless man, I padlocked his chair to the railing and carried him up a flight of rickety wooden stairs to an incense-laden, unsuccessful attempt to turn a cheap little room into an Arabian Nights fantasy. She said to come back in half an hour.

My new suit fitted perfectly and looked classy. Burtons must have employed slave labour to get it done so fast and cheaply. I wandered across the ineptly named Golden Square and into Carnaby Street, just another grotty lane of cheap fashionable junk, where I bought a pair of tight jeans that had eyelets with cord lashing instead of fly buttons, and a pair of white canvas 'sailor' trousers with a flap instead of a fly.

A year later, Carnaby Street had become internationally famous as the hub of men's fashion.

Sean chortled all the way home, describing in nauseating detail the attributes of the Venus who had succoured him.

His exhilaration continued through an early tea, and when he asked obliquely about my sex life, I told him I had a date with someone at the opera that night. He gave a knowing wink and said that as this had been his best week for years and I was obviously an A1 chap and thoroughly trustworthy, I could bring my 'date' home if I had nowhere else to go – as long as Mrs. Hockey never found out about either of us. I promised his sexploits would remain a secret, and we shook hands.

Gwyneth Jones replaced an ill Leontyne Price. Emil, my Brazilian acquaintance, reckoned that was a stroke of luck. Price had not been performing well because of stress after receiving racist hate mail, stones thrown through her hotel windows, and being refused entry to whites-only hotels on her tour of the U.S.A..

The performance was thrilling – almost as thrilling as the hand that slipped into my shirt and stroked my belly. I was slightly overdressed for the gods in my new suit, but Emil reckoned I looked a million pounds. I've no idea what he was wearing.

After the performance we stood awkwardly, unwilling to part, and equally unwilling to go on somewhere that cost money. Could we go back to my place? He lived with his family in a small flat and…

Of course, we could, I had Sean's permission! It was a night to remember. I kept the light on so I could marvel at the wondrous specimen of manhood in my bed. He was a quiet, intense lover, as inexperienced as I, so that made the pleasure even greater – I wasn't intimidated. It was too perfect. Something had to go wrong. Surely my run of luck since arriving in London wasn't sustainable?

We heard Sean making breakfast as we dressed. He turned from the sink with a smile that froze on his lips. Blood drained from his face – literally. He choked, then whispered, "Is this the… 'date' I let you bring to my house?"

When I nodded, his face had become ugly. Very ugly. I worried he was having a fit. He was.

Waving his arms frantically he shouted, "You sick, vicious, perverted bastard! Get out! Out! Out!" He spun his chair around heading for the telephone. "I'm calling the police!"

Emil grabbed my arm. "Get your stuff! Now! Get away before they get here! Hurry!"

Shouting at me to get a move on, he shoved me back into my room. I grabbed my bag and wallet and put on some shoes – luckily, I hadn't unpacked much, and we raced up and away, not stopping till we reached Victoria Station where we collapsed onto a bench. I had no idea why we'd run; I was simply responding to Emil's panic.

"If the cops had caught us we'd be in prison now, waiting to see the magistrate," he gasped. "We'd have been roughed up, fined… criminals! It's illegal to be queer. Surely you know that?"

I knew it was illegal in public, but in private? I knew people didn't approve. I knew I had to be circumspect; not tell anyone because they were always making sick jokes about queers and stuff. But I hadn't thought why… after all, I wasn't really queer, I was just adventurous. I thought others' opinions didn't really concern me as long as I didn't offend them. I had no idea Sean would mind. I was that innocent!

Emil had to go to work, so we downed a couple of bacon sandwiches and a coffee at a café, and arranged to meet at 5:30 outside the Haymarket Theatre.

Anger replaced shock and fear when I realised I'd left my new suit and winkle-pickers back at the Hockey's! It took all my self-control not to go back and try to talk sense into Sean. I'm usually pretty good at talking people around to my way of thinking, but then I remembered his face and changed my mind. I have no defence against irrationality – I go to pieces.

After dumping my bags in a locker at Victoria Station, I wandered over to Westminster. There were dozens of policemen standing around, plus a few on horseback – an IRA bomb threat, one told me when I asked. He seemed pleasant enough, so I asked him if it really was illegal to be queer. He said it wasn't illegal to be a homo, but it was illegal to do anything about it. Why was I asking?

His suddenly suspicious tone nearly loosened my bowels and I stuttered that I was just curious. He grunted, gave me a look that penetrated to my core and suggested he knew every wicked thought in my head, so I thanked him and raced away, literally twittering from insecurity and mental fragility.

It was the first time in my life I'd experienced real fear. What I'd previously taken for fear had been nothing but nervousness. Always I'd been secretly confident I'd manage, because there was always a rational answer to every problem, and people were basically reasonable – weren't they? One of the pillars that had been supporting my 'temple of admiration for humanity' began to crumble.

Sick and slick with nervous sweat, I pretended to be just another tourist and wandered across Parliament Square and Broad Sanctuary, winding up in front of a large circular building. To my surprise it was the London base of the Methodists – Central Hall Westminster. Very impressive. Inside, it was a bit like the Colosseum. The sight of a dark-suited, dog collared fellow approaching middle age seemed like a beacon of kindness in a world suddenly turned hostile, so I approached in the hope that, like Jesus, he would gather up this lost sheep and offer shelter – or at least wise words that would assuage the hurt, bolster my flagging self-esteem, and set me on the path to redemption.

He saw me approaching, pulled a worried frown and busied himself with an unnecessary straightening of brochures. When that didn't work, he demanded with ill-concealed impatience if he could help me. I said I had a bit of a problem and wanted his advice. His frown deepened, he checked his watch, cleared his throat and said he had an appointment; was it really urgent? He was good – very good. Made me feel an intolerable wimp. A nuisance. A waster of important people's time.

Suddenly I realised he was a Pharisee, not a Samaritan, so instead of unburdening myself of my dread secret, I said it wasn't that important, I'd come back when he wasn't so busy, and wandered out hoping I didn't look as much of a prat as I felt. Served me right for forgetting Mother's advice about ministers. I'd been let off lightly. If he hadn't been wearing a dog collar, I'd never have approached such a miserable, pinched specimen of humanity.

I vividly recall shouting with relief and racing madly across Birdcage Walk to St James Park where flocks of extraordinarily colourful wildfowl calmed my tortured psyche and let me view things in perspective.

Nothing bad had happened. I'd simply had a timely warning and a lucky escape from the clutches of both the law and religion. Had the recalcitrant prelate been all loving, forgiving, and understanding, I'd probably have struggled to change. As it was, he had failed in his duty to an obviously distressed young man, and my faith in myself was reinforced. I felt older, wiser and street smart – no longer the innocent young colonial fatuously in love with the big, kind, caring city of London.

Blue-uniformed nannies and their young charges fed ducks. Strollers strolled. Important people hurried to appointments. The sun glistened on the fairy-tale tower of the horse guards. In the distance, the royal standard fluttered atop Buckingham Palace and I made four vows. I would keep my sexual orientation a secret from everyone except real friends; of which I so far had none. I would trust my own judgement and find wisdom in experience and the writings of wise men. I would always be independent and debt free. I would never enter a religious building as anything other than a tourist. A great lightness filled me. Only I knew how I should live.

The day passed quickly – I wanted to see everything for the last time. After climbing The Monument again, I went to the city branch of the bank to change my address for forwarding mail. Banks were caring institutions in those days. Not only did the BNZ pay 3% interest on all deposits, they forwarded or held mail for collection, arranged travel and travellers' cheques, organised visas, and the branch in Regent Street just off Piccadilly had a lounge serving tea and biscuits. Even small-change customers like me were considered valuable assets.

It's astounding how different London looked in the light of my recent experience. Suddenly I was pleased to be leaving my silliness behind. New adventures awaited. I was also pleased Emil didn't turn up at the Haymarket Theatre. No one likes to be associated with a failure, and I had failed him utterly – putting his life in danger. I wanted to leave no debts behind.

After collecting my bag from Victoria, as a penance for my stupidity I lugged it all the way to Liverpool Street Station, arriving so exhausted it was a relief to stretch out on a hard bench in the second-class waiting room for the remainder of the night.

My companions were a couple of drunks, a madwoman spouting poetry, a thin, exhausted-looking girl who kept whimpering, and two bearded young American tourists who, after informing the entire waiting room of their drunken Icelandic Airways flight from New York that morning, curled up in sleeping bags in a dusty corner and snored.

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