Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 27

Even Grander Touring

"Have you noticed all those soldiers?" someone remarked as we were driving from Madrid to Valencia. Every hundred metres for about twenty kilometres, fully kitted soldiers had been standing at attention, rifles at the ready on both sides of the road. Suddenly, an ear-splitting siren heralded a police car roaring towards us, blue lights flashing, loudspeakers blaring "Estop! Estop! Estop!" on and on and on.

We pulled over to the side of the road. After several minutes, four police cars, sirens screaming, followed by three black stretch limos with darkened glass and another two police cars, hurtled towards us at well over a hundred and fifty kilometres an hour. Generalissimo Franco was returning to Madrid. As soon as they'd gone, the soldiers broke ranks and we continued on our journey. It was a disquieting experience.

We all lost money in the Casino at Nice – at least five shillings - but made it up by sleeping on the beach near Hyeres, spreading out the tent and clambering underneath to keep off the dew. The girls reckoned the Monte Carlo Casino toilets with their liveried attendants were the best in the civilized world.

In Rome we filled our bellies with delicious cherries growing wild on the roadside near the centre of town, and splurged on coffee with the 'beautiful people' on Via Veneto – an experience spoiled by young Italian males who, in the sixties, considered unaccompanied young women fair game. With only two males for four females, the girls' bums were pinched so hard they locked themselves in the van in tears. Painful bruises were visible the following morning.

While the others took the Swiss mountain railway through ice caves to the top of the Jungfrau, I trekked up alpine meadows above Lauterbrunnen to the snow line – very high as it was mid-summer. It was fairy-tale perfect. Waterfalls lined the track, wild flowers everywhere, cowbells clanking, and I even found gentian and edelweiss, which surprised the woman running the hostel. It was very dangerous to go so high, she said – especially alone without telling anyone. But it had been very romantic.

The Austrian business partner of one of the girls' parents had invited us to visit them for afternoon tea at their home outside Vienna. The long driveway wound its way through an ancient forest. It wasn't just a house, it was a Schloss surrounded by lawns, formal gardens, and topiary trees. The heavy front door responded to my pull on the bell by revealing a liveried butler who ushered us through grand hallways to a sun-filled room overlooking private gardens and a small lake. Plates of strawberries and cream were placed before us and we ate in awed silence, served by two starched maids.

Finally, our host and hostess appeared, immaculately presented and too dauntingly polite to remark on our less than formal attire. Compared to them, Colonel and Mrs. May were proletarians. The girls were presented with a rhinestone necklace each; Anthony and I received a handshake. Duty done, our hosts withdrew. We were politely ushered out and drove away; relieved not to have the burden of such riches.

In Bonn, the interim capital of West Germany, we saw a crowd, stopped, joined them, and a few minutes later President Kennedy was driven past with Chancellor Adenauer in an open car. The absence of obvious security made poor Generalissimo Franco seem paranoid – but then he had cause to be. We were less than five metres from Mr. President who had a piggy face.

Four months later he was dead, and the outpouring of grief amazed me. I'd seen him up close and thought he looked a bit self-satisfied, so I wasn't upset, not realising his foreign policy ideas would have ended the cold war and set the world on the road to peace – which is no doubt why he was assassinated. Fifty-five years later I am belatedly very sorry.

Aldous Huxley died the same day and, although his admirers and I felt the loss deeply, his death went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. I was greatly influenced by Huxley's pacifism and writing – especially Island - and shared his detestation of mass culture and popular entertainment. Later that day when I was buying camping gas for the cooker in a hardware store, the owner offered me a job. So easy was it to find work in Germany then.

"That guy's staring at you," Anthony warned in the spotlessly clean washroom of the Cologne camping ground. "I know," I responded carelessly, "he fancies me." I hadn't had sex with anyone since the start of the trip, unless I counted the performance in the Nazaré camping ground, so ignoring Anthony's protests I followed the young man back to his tent.

That evening Anthony announced he was returning to London. He had business interests that demanded his attention and was leaving me in charge. In fact, he was starting up a travel agency specialising in cheap tours of European highlights for colonials. Ours was a trial run to check all the camping grounds and iron out possible glitches at frontiers and so on.

He didn't tell the girls about my dalliance with the camper, so I accompanied him across the footbridge to the main railway station beside the cathedral.

"I wish you'd told me earlier!" he said irritably. "Seeing you naked and fooling around with the girls had me worried you'd rape one and ruin my reputation."

His reputation! How about the girls' reputations? I didn't bother to explain it was his own fault for sneering at Edgar. To celebrate his departure, the girls forewent cooking for once and we enjoyed a dozen different varieties of sausage, followed by a giant cheesecake, at a traditional German restaurant.

The road through East Germany to Berlin was a securely fenced, high-speed Autobahn policed by army vehicles. Stopping verboten at all times! Our tent site in the Potsdam camping ground was right against the infamous wall – a deceptively slight affair of concrete that we could walk up to and touch, topped with barbed wire.

On the other side, soldiers could be heard marching and ordering each other around, and searchlights stayed on all night. There was no surveillance whatever on our side. It was extraordinary to swim in the lake that formed part of the boundary and know that the people we saw on the other side were prisoners who'd be shot if they tried to swim across to us.

Three East Berliners had been shot and killed trying to escape by driving a car through Checkpoint Charlie the day before we crossed. The blood still stained the road, so it was unnerving to have my passport taken, be hustled into a windowless room, and ordered to strip! A guard in jodhpurs and high-peaked cap who looked like the ruthless German soldiers depicted in War Comics of the period, shoved my head between my knees while his companion spread my cheeks and thrust a rubber-gloved finger up my ring. It hurt!

I'd read the spy books so showed neither anger nor fear; a mistake. They wanted fear and the War Comic character threw an unexpected solid punch into my guts just below the ribs – calculated to paralyse the diaphragm and have me gasping for breath in agony on the floor.

Fortunately, I've excellent reflexes and good abs so it didn't hurt physically. Mentally I was a mess! How could this be happening to me – a nice boy from a nice family? The room grew very cold and I stopped thinking – terrorism does that. Afterwards, I couldn't tell the girls. I guess it's what raped people feel – as if it was my own fault for acting too arrogant or something. It was several years before fear stopped catching me unawares at the mere mention of Berlin.

East Berlin was dead. Shops with nothing to sell, streets void of cars. We drove a kilometre or so away from the main business area and parked in a treeless street flanked by featureless, five-storey, beige apartment blocks. Within seconds a dozen poorly dressed kids and adults arrived to gape, stare, and ask questions. We were 'outsiders', few of whom ventured so far from the main square. Their relatives in West Berlin hadn't been seen or heard from since the wall went up just over two years previously, and they were starved for news.

An older woman took my hand. I was like her son, she said, breaking down and sobbing against my chest. I wrapped my arms around her heaving shoulders, helpless. What had she done to deserve this? How could I comfort her? What could I do to stem the tide of misery, poverty, fear, and stupidity? They didn't dare invite us inside – indeed were nervous the whole time that the Stasi might see them talking to us. After carefully checking we weren't being spied on, we accepted half a dozen hastily scrawled notes and promised to post them when we arrived back in West Berlin. If we'd been caught it could have been dangerous, but we couldn't refuse.

Kruschev was due to appear at a rally in Karl Marx Square that day and we'd planned to attend, but the sky turned black and the most violent electrical storm to hit Berlin for decades sent everyone scurrying for shelter from torrential rain, hail, and lightning. Poor Kruschev – his audience fled as we did, locals to their miserable apartments, us back to the safety, bright lights and bustle of West Berlin.

After Hamburg's overcrowded industrialisation and the sleazy, commercial sex of Herbert Strasse, Scandinavia's fresh air and openness was a relief. Danish magazines fluttering in the breeze outside roadside kiosks showing nudes with nipples and pubic hair were terribly exciting – we were used to under-the-counter magazines containing photos of women with airbrushed pubes and no nipples or slits. And Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens deserved their reputation as the most beautiful and elegant amusement park in the world.

Picking blueberries in the pine forests of Sweden, laughing at goats grazing the roofs of chalets in Norway where the sun only set for an hour or so at night and no one ever seemed to go to bed, was much more interesting than I'd expected. On our return along the North Sea coast to Ostend, we attracted crowds of bored campers each night, amazed at our well-practised tent erection and food preparation, and clearly curious about a G-stringed young man and his harem of four slightly nubile young women.

A couple of unexpected expenses had blown a hole in my personal budget, so I had no spending money for the last few days. We'd decided to spend two days shopping in Amsterdam before driving to Ostend for the ferry. Credit cards, electronic banking, and instant telegraphic transfers were twenty years in the future, so I had no way of getting more cash until I returned to London. It was a nuisance as there were several things I'd planned to buy. I couldn't help wondering if, being the gay capital of Europe, the city might offer a fit young twenty-two-year-old an opportunity.... if he kept his eyes open.

People often doubt the truth of my experiences, labelling them impossible coincidences, because it's not possible that something always turns up to save my bacon. But there are no coincidences in life. People of a similar bent do similar things and go to similar places and 'recognise' each other, so it is inevitable they will meet. Those whose lives appear to unroll more or less smoothly have kept their mind and eyes open to the real world and the opportunities that arise, grabbing what's on offer even if it's something they hadn't planned.

Most people I know always have a plan, and if that plan goes awry, they're stymied; feel cheated, and tell everyone life is unfair because they didn't get what they wanted. I've never had fixed plans, merely a vague notion of the general direction I might go in. So whenever an opportunity arises that looks more or less useful, I go for it. Contented people are those who, like natural animals in the wild, uncomplainingly accept whatever circumstances they find themselves in, take their chances, and make the best of things.

Marion had arranged to meet her forty-two-year-old, alarmingly good-looking and wealthy father in Amsterdam. He was on a cigars and coffee-buying trip for his wholesale business in Johannesburg and invited us for lunch at his hotel. Elegant and lean in a well-tailored suit; face as barricaded against the world as I felt mine must be; I couldn't take my eyes off him and made certain I sat beside him at the table. While the girls chattered about our holiday over coffee, he stroked my thigh under the table. I placed my hand on his and kept it there.

The camping ground that night was right beside the new Schiphol International Airport. When he heard this, the father said he would pay for two double rooms at the hotel for the girls, as it would be a pity to spoil the last two days of the holiday trying to sleep with noisy jets screaming overhead. They could scarcely contain their delight – a private shower at last! While they took their things up to their rooms Marion's father asked if it wasn't a bit odd my holidaying with four young women. I agreed. He asked what I did for a crust. I told him.

"Actors don't make enough for you to take three months off. What else do you do?"

I took a gamble and told him I was an occasional escort with an exclusive Mayfair agency.

He nodded, giving nothing away. "Are you healthy?"


He grinned. "And how much does this healthy young man receive for a night?"

"Twenty guineas," I admitted modestly.

He thought for a bit. "As we'll be using my room, plus meals if you want, how does twenty-five pounds for two nights sound?"

I opened my wallet and he deposited two tens and a fiver.

He grinned. "A true professional. Cash up front."

Much later that evening after a pleasant interlude, someone knocked on the door. I grabbed a towel, opened it and Marion came in and pulled up a chair. Somewhat confused, I returned to bed and listened to father and daughter share gossip and news while he stroked my shoulder and neck. After half an hour she ran out of steam, stood, stretched, apologised for keeping us up, bent and kissed her father, leaned over him and kissed me on the brow, then turned at the door.

"I knew on the first night when the tent collapsed that you were just like daddy. That's why I liked you." A well-bred smile and she was gone.

It turned out her parents had divorced when she was ten and she'd lived with her father and his partner ever since, so was perfectly used to seeing him in bed with a man. He was, as she had said three months earlier, a perfect gentleman.

The van's battery had died in the north of Holland and the girls had to push so I could start the thing every time we wanted to go anywhere. It was a bit embarrassing on the wharf at Ostend, and on arrival at Dover in front of laughing motorists, to be pushed through the hold to the ramp so we could roll down, start with a bang, and arrive in London exactly on time to return the van to Anthony.

Everyone promised to meet up again, but I knew I wouldn't. Spending twenty-four hours a day with people for three months doesn't mean you get to either know or like them enough to have reunions. I remained as much a mystery to them as they did to me. Was it ever possible to really know someone, I wondered?

After more than fifty years living happily with the same partner, I'm certain the answer to that is 'no'. Other people change just as we do, and they can always surprise us. In fact, sometimes I think I scarcely know myself.

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