Losing Tim

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 1

This story is set in the English Black Country and London during the first half of the 1960s. Much of what is in this story is totally unacceptable by today's standards. Let us not forget what L P Hartley writes as the start of The Go Between: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. If that was true in 1953 when he wrote it, it is even more true today. It is, however, a mistake to think that what was happening in the 1960s could not happen today. They still happen.

London 1966

I don't think I ever regarded myself as a rent boy. Rent boys were the lads standing by the railings at Piccadilly Circus or hanging around in the toilets waiting to be picked up. Rent boys had their prices, a quid a suck, two pounds and they would suck you, for a fiver they would fuck you and for ten you could fuck them. That is unless they were younger and played around in the arcades, they were even cheaper. I never had a price list, nor did hang I around the meat rack of Piccadilly for some client to pick up. From my perspective I did not have clients these days, just a series of friends who were very kind to me.

I would meet my friends in bars, The Shaftsbury, Marquis of Granby or in clubs like the Apollo, Molly's, Sheba's or the Londoner. There I would meet people, usually two or three times before they would invite me to visit them for a weekend at a house out in the country. Once there I would almost certainly end up in their bed and leave with a present, a nice gold chain or a decent watch, after that I might go back to their London flat, there would of course always be a present but never a fee that would have been unthinkable I was not a rent boy, even if I was a whore.

Of course, one could not live on presents and there was no way I could live on the salary I got from my job as an assistant in an art publisher or at least not in anything like the style I had come to expect in the eighteen months I had been living in London. That's where Harry came in useful. Tucked down a small ally just off St Martin's Lane, Harry Jacob's Pawn Shop was a godsend to those boys like me who got nice gifts. He was always available to advance us some cash on a watch or piece of jewellery, at times he had been even known to help a lad out with a bit of cash when they had landed a bummer, like the gold-plated chain I was given by an Arab Oil Prince after a weekend in Claridge's.

At seventeen and a half, I was enjoying life in London. My work for a small specialist publisher was not demanding. In fact, most days I was finished by early afternoon and could go off to Molly's or one of the other unofficial bars that were open at that time. If the weather was fine one might walk around passing the time of day with the doormen of the major hotels around central London. They would undoubtedly know any foreign visitor who could do with a 'friend' to show them round London and keep them from feeling lonely. It was also worthwhile to let them know of the bummers, like my Oil Prince who turned out to be an unemployed labourer from Gibraltar or was it Malta? One did, of course, have to make sure you also dropped them a reasonable tip for any introductions made. Twenty percent of what you got from Harry was standard, but it was well established that a fiver was the most.

One or two might ask you to meet up with them when they were off duty, a pleasure that was always worthwhile and often lead to more introductions. Alternatively, you might introduce them to one of your friends who couldn't quite maintain the level of gifts that were needed to maintain one's affection but who did need somebody to be with. A doorman or bellboy could easily match his salary each week by these means and no risk of getting involved with a customer, something that was just not done, at least not at the respectable hotels.

Life in the main was good, it was also fairly easy. I had a large bed-sit, almost a flat, in part of Islington which, in another thirty years would become very trendy. Then it was a bit run down but still respectable. Not that I saw much of it nor did my friends, though there were one or two, like Alfie, who dropped by from time to time. In Alfie's case, I think it was more a case of getting away from his partner than any desire to see me, which, having met his partner I can fully understand.

The only downside for me was that I was a long way from Timmy. Now I need to explain that I do not come from London. In fact, I came from Wednesbury, which is about 130 miles away from where I had ended up. To my American readers that might not sound a long way but remember the old saying, to an Englishman a hundred miles is a long way, to an American a hundred years is a long time. For me back then a hundred miles was a long way, especially given that I did not drive. My only way to get home was a train journey to Birmingham or Wolverhampton then a bus ride which took about the same amount of time to Wednesbury. To be honest, I wouldn't have bothered to go home at all except for Timmy.

Black Country 1962

Tim, as he likes to be known but to me, he will always be Timmy, is just over two years younger than me. We met when he was 12, just 12, it was his birthday. The middle of the Easter Holidays, I had taken my camera up to the hill in Kings Hill Park, a poor space of greenery surrounded by the heavy industry of the Black Country. Even here though in the midst of the industrial wasteland that spewed forth flames from the furnaces that burnt night and day, nature had a way of turning up surprises. Cutting through the park the previous day I had heard the rat rat tatting of a woodpecker drumming on a tree and caught a flash of white high up in the old elms at that circled the base of the hill. The hill, actually the remains of an old slag heap that has been roughly allowed to turn into woodland, rises steeply from the surrounding park, so walking a couple of turns round the winding path I could easily get level with the tops of the elms.

For once my father had actually got me something I wanted for Christmas, rather than something he could boast about with his friends, a 500mm telephoto lens for my SLR. The camera was an East German copy of a Pentax but solid and reliable. I had won it a couple of years ago in a photographic competition, much to the disgust of most of the local photographic club when they realised the competition had been won by somebody, they had refused membership to as being too young. I had subsequently taken some pleasure in turning down their offer of membership.

I was just in the process of fixing the lens onto the camera when I became aware that somebody was watching me.

"That's a big one", a voice stated from behind me. I turned and looked up the hill to see the source of the voice sitting on the edge of the path as it wound back upon itself in its progress up the hill. He looked about ten or eleven, wearing a tight grey shirt which was clearly a size too small for him, an old cardigan which looked a size too large for him and some torn and repaired grey school trousers, even though this was the holidays.

"Yes, it's a five hundred mill telephoto", I responded, clicking the lens into its mount. "Got it for Christmas."

"Christ, you must be loaded to get that," he commented. I shook my head. Then thought about it for a moment, compared with most of the families around here we were probably loaded. Both my parents worked full time, which was at that time unusual. Yes, a lot of women worked but most only part-time and women with children hardly ever worked. Kids like me were an exception, so much so that there was a special name for us, latch key kids.

"Nah," I replied, "We're not loaded but my Dad likes to show off to his mates. The boy nodded as if he understood.

"Why you brought it here?"

"There is woodpecker around here, wanted to get a picture of it."

"Nah way, never seen a woodpecker around 'ere."

"I heard one drumming yesterday and saw a flash of white in that tree." I pointed to the large elm that was visible through the gap in the trees on the hill. Just then the sound of drumming came from the tree. The boy looked impressed. I clicked the lens into position and turned the camera towards the tree, after a few moments I caught a glimpse of white. Looking through the viewfinder I could make out the partial shape of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, unfortunately mostly obscured by the surrounding branches. There was no way I was going to get a good shot of it from here.

"Can I look?" the boy asked. I nodded and indicated he should come down from the path to where I had set up my tripod and look. He did. Then turned and informed me that to get a good shot I would have to move high up the hill. I agreed and started to pack my stuff to move it up the hill.

"Can I help?" There was something about the tone in the request which indicated a need to help.

"You can carry the tripod for me," I replied as I detached the camera. He picked it up and the two of us trudged up the hill, cutting straight up not following the path till we came to a flat spot just below where the path came round again. Once more I set up my kit, this time with the boy's assistance.

"I'm Timmy he informed me, what's your name?"


"You're in the 4th year, aren't you?" I nodded, then realised where I had seen Timmy before, he was a first year at King's Hill School. It was not often that I was in the playground as I went home for dinner and was usually busy during the morning and afternoon breaks, but I remembered seeing a boy always at the edge of the first years who bunched together at the top end of the yard.

"Yes, you're a first year?" He nodded. "What do you think of it?"

"It's shit?" This was said with a venom which surprised me. I know King's Hill was a Secondary Modern School, but it was generally considered one of the best of the Secondary Moderns around the area, mostly due to the Headmaster Mr Wright. He took the view that the boys may have failed their eleven plus exam but that did not mean that they could not learn. He made a point of making sure we were taught how to learn, not just to regurgitate back what was needed for the exams. He also had a strict view on bullying and there was far less of it at King's Hill than at some of the other local schools.

"Nobody likes me, there is nobody here from my old school, they all went to Holyhead Road."

"Why didn't you?"

"I couldn't, we moved to Darlaston just before the end of the School year."

We continued to talk about school and why he was unhappy with it. It seemed that he was totally isolated in his class, not helped by the fact that he was in the B form and generally came top in all his subjects. Not likely to endear him to the type of lads who ended up in the B form. However, talking about school got us talking about our favourite subjects, mine was Science, Maths and Technical drawing, and his were English, Art and Geography. At least we had one thing in common, I also liked Geography.

As we talked, I took more interest in watching him than in looking at the tree for the woodpecker. There was something about Timmy that drew me to him, not in a sexual sense, though I was fully aware of sexual activity and the fact that I was queer, but in a protective sense. It felt as if Timmy needed somebody and I was there, and it felt good to be needed.

I managed to get some photos of the woodpecker but knew none of them were any good. At no time was I able to get a totally clear view of it. That was annoying in one way but in another, I found it helpful, it gave me an excuse to stay there talking with Timmy, eventually, though it started to spot with rain and heavy clouds made it clear that there was more to come. I quickly packed my gear which definitely was not rainproof and started to walk down the path to go home. Timmy was walking beside me.

"Are you going to try again?" he asked.

"I'll try again tomorrow, if it's fine, can't use the camera in the rain."

"If it's not it might clear up later; you could shelter in the bandstand till it does."

I never agreed to be there but somehow, I knew that I would be at the bandstand in the morning. For the rest of that week, I was at the bandstand every morning whether it was raining or not, always to find Timmy waiting for me. If it was raining, we would sit there and talk, sharing the sandwiches that I had brought with me. If it was fine, we would go up the hill and set up my camera and spend the time trying to get photos of the woodpecker and other birds in the trees. As it turned out I managed to get the photo, I wanted the second day but did not tell Timmy, just carried on as if I needed more.

On the Friday morning, I finished my last roll of film. As I was packing up Timmy asked which Chemists, I would use to get them developed. I laughed and told him I didn't, that I developed them myself. I had printed my first photo when I was nine and had been processing film for the last three years since I had got a developing tank and enlarger for my eleventh birthday. Timmy asked if he could help. So it was that Timmy came to my house for the first time.

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