Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 29

Of Lust and Learning

Clackmannan is the smallest Scottish shire - a narrow strip ten miles by eleven, squeezed between the River Forth to the south and the escarpment of the Ochils to the north, along the base of which nestle grey stone villages, rugged glens, and the ruined Castle Campbell.

The shire's largest town, Alloa, boasted the largest whisky storage facility in the kingdom, several bonny kirks preaching John Knox's brand of Calvinistic misery, a woollen garment factory, and all the usual amenities including a fine indoor public swimming pool, gymnasium, and exotic Turkish bath. The air is suffused with odours of brewing and distilling, and the old town is built of pinkish stone with a sprinkling of Flemish-style stepped gables, witness to Scotland's ancient preference for alliances with France and the 'Low Countries', rather than its treacherous neighbours to the south.

The month-long school camp was in a converted army barracks in the mountains near Aberfoyle in what is now the 'Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park'. Each class had two teachers – either a Scot and a colonial, or two colonials. There were ten dour Scots assisted by four Aussies, two New Zealanders, three Canadians, and one South African. All the colonials were in their early twenties, and keen to show the kids that school could be fun. After an initial pep talk by the camp's head teacher, I was waylaid by a scrawny Scottish fellow reeking of tobacco.

"Macbeth!" He hissed as if passing on a secret code.

I nodded, wondering if I'd be given a bouquet or brickbat.

"Dinnae fash y'sel, I willnae tell a soul."

"Tell what?" I asked, holding my breath so as not to gag on his BO, praying I wasn't going to be assigned to him.

"What a liberating experience it was to see a Sassenach penis in full swing on a public stage."

Baring nicotine-stained teeth in a smug leer he wandered off leaving me baffled. Why should I worry? I was proud of it and mildly disappointed he wasn't going to spread the word that I was a great Shakespearian actor.

The Scottish teachers were pleased to have a month out of the classroom, but not keen on getting too physical with the kids. We colonials would be moving on after the camp, whereas they had to teach their students for the rest of the year so they daren't lose face. Usually, they left us to do everything, contenting themselves with the occasional appearance, in between times chatting and playing bridge in the staffroom, attending the Sunday religious service with their class (while we infidels wandered down to the pub) and accepting credit for their students' success on parents' visiting day. The two groups seldom mixed, which suited us as most of them threw wet blankets over fun, deeming it not quite Christian to laugh out loud.

Teaching is acting with a captive audience. Most teachers cope with the fear of losing control and being asked questions they can't answer by rewarding obsequiousness and punishing individuality, turning their charges into the sort of lick-spittle employees most employers want. Questioning, sensitivity, courage, inventiveness, and tolerance are not much use to an entrepreneur impatient to make his first million.

All I've ever asked of my pupils is to treat me the same as I treat them: with politeness as equals while doing my best to amuse as well as edify. It makes for lively lessons and happy kids. The smile from a kid you're teaching is personal. The applause of an audience is not. You seldom have individual contact with an audience or discover what they really think about you. But kids tell you exactly what they think; laugh at you, ask questions, say they wish you were their father, and even twelve-year-old boys sometimes hold your hand without thinking while on a walk.

I was spared the incinerator-breathed Scot, and shared a classroom with a tall, blonde, Canadian lass and twenty pupils. We went hiking, climbing, identifying trees, drawing, and painting. We wrote scripts and made scenery and costumes for our segment of a grand pageant glorifying Scottish history. With no radios, TV, or other intrusion from the outside world, we made our own innocent fun in the evenings with party games, concerts, dances, talent quests…

A few years later in Stirling, I met a businessman in his thirties who told me his month at a similar camp as a child had been the finest in his life.

The food was good – a big breakfast, dinner, and high tea, with morning and afternoon snacks, and cocoa and a butty before bed. For some kids, it was the first time in their lives they'd had three good, healthy meals each day, and they blossomed. Pupils were rostered to help local ladies in the kitchen.

The assembly hall had a good stage with lights and curtains; the ablution blocks were adequate; and the staff-room was cosy and friendly. I slept in a small room at the end of a dormitory, in charge of twenty, twelve and thirteen-year-old, high-spirited laddies. I had only to begin telling about my recent travels to send them to sleep each night, leaving me free to join the other colonials for a game of cards, a natter, or a walk through an oak forest to the ancient Aberfoyle Pub where Rob Roy was supposed to have wet his whistle, and they didn't mind serving me soft drink – unlike a pub in Glasgow where I was threatened with a thumping for daring to ask.

Just about all kids have an aptitude for acting, inventiveness, and mimicry – as long as they feel secure and not criticised. Scottish Television heard about my drama classes and filmed us for an education documentary. They arrived in a giant articulated van filled with electronic gadgetry, tapes, dials, and lights. Two wrist-thick cables snaked from the van into the hall to be plugged into a large camera on a tripod – too heavy to carry. Floodlights brought daylight to the stage and we were off.

The film was black-and-white and the maximum length of a tape about five minutes, but it was magic to have instant replay. Today, my cigarette-packet-sized digital camera can do more than that entire lorry load of electronics – and in colour. I'd never seen myself on film, and neither had the kids. It gave us all a welcome boost of confidence.

From a queer perspective, heterosexual relationships seem fraught with difficulty. Men and women can't be simply friends. If a man treats a woman like a chum, she thinks he wants to sleep with her, and vice-versa. And if they really are after sex, they daren't seem too keen because it suggests they're desperate. For years I unconsciously gave out all the wrong signals: friendly and fun but hard to get – a combination guaranteed to arouse primal desires, resulting in demands to indulge in sexual congress, or marriage, or, from independent types, at least to provide a baby!

My blonde associate managed to contain her lusts for three nights before creeping into my room, sloughing off her duffel coat, sliding naked into bed and licking my ear, interrupting a very pleasant wank. I hate having my ear licked so pulled away. She grabbed at my cock, unaware that it was the memory of the Cologne German, not her, who was the source of its tumescence. Anger made me careless and I pushed her out of bed, remarking somewhat cruelly that I didn't do overtime. Not surprisingly, she spread the rumour I was 'playing for the other side'.

Thanks to the ubiquitous and still current stereotype of limp wrists and wimpish effeminacy, I was the last man in camp anyone would think was queer. Instead, she was labelled a 'vindictive scorned woman' and suffered a nervous breakdown; her departure proving that homophobia doesn't only hurt homos. Despite the 'happy' ending, it was a most disquieting experience. I could have been summarily dismissed and deported as a paedophile – because, as everyone 'knows', all queers are child molesters. The experience shoved me to the back of my closet again, a place from which I have never completely emerged.

After Aberfoyle I taught at Sunnyside Primary where I was accused of being rather too affable with the pupils and not respectful enough of tradition. My kids would be belting out 'There is a Tavern in the Town' while the Church of Scotland Minister's wife's brow-beaten pupils next door were singing hymns. I think they assumed I was a communist until the day an "Important Visitor" arrived to address the school. All four hundred and ten pupils aged from five to thirteen were seated on their bottoms on the hard assembly room floor when we learned the VIP would be delayed for half an hour.

When the sole means of discipline is the strap or cane, even young children are prone to take advantage of such situations and become riotous. It had taken half an hour to get them in their rows! What to do? The headmaster knew I'd been an actor, so asked me to entertain. I sat on a high stool and told them Grimm's tale of "Faithful John". For the full half hour no one moved. I finished just as the VIP entered, imagining the applause was for him.

From that day I could do no wrong, and when I was in the dock for riding my recently acquired Lambretta motor scooter without either licence or 'L' plates, the Headmaster spoke to his friend the Procurator Fiscal. The Scottish legal system is based on the French and differs from England and the colonies in that, instead of looking for legal loopholes and scoring points, they attempt to get at the truth. It was an interesting experience, because it didn't seem real. It was like being in a play and I understood how kids who get on the wrong side of the law can't get their heads around the seriousness of a court appearance.

Being led in by a policeman and locked in an elegantly carved and polished wooden 'dock' seemed ridiculous. I knew I wasn't a bad person, but all those long faces and serious expressions suggested I was. When asked why I'd been riding without a licence, I replied, "I'd just bought the scooter and couldn't resist having a go." Chuckles were audible; I was let off with a caution and earned a small headline in the local paper.

To avoid beer-soaked, vacuous heterosexual evenings with other colonials staying at the Royal Oak and another hotel down the road, I frequently soaked up the heat under the exotic dome of the Council owned and operated Turkish Baths which were in the same complex as the swimming pool and town gymnasium. In southern Europe, I would never be considered handsome, but in the U.K. I always felt good-looking. There's something doughy and boneless about most British faces, and the lack of sun and exercise shows in their bodies.

A small, very hot room opened off the main room, to which groups of men would repair, leaving someone to stand casually on guard at the door. Curious, I went in when it was empty and stretched out on a bench. Within a minute I had an audience and was offered fellatio. Apart from the risk of disease and prosecution, romantic notions of finding a soul mate to share my life, shoved a public blowjob by a tough old labourer in a bathhouse down to the level of 'not bloody likely!'

They seemed decent blokes, but you never know, so I thanked them politely and let them watch while I took care of it myself. It was like old times having an appreciative audience, but I didn't stay to watch the others. Carnal cavorting of bodies in less than prime condition is unappetizing viewing.

One evening, a dark green Wolseley followed my scooter back to the hotel. Panic! Cops? Guilty fear is a queer's constant companion. An elegant, middle-aged man in a suit who'd been eyeing me in the baths, invited me for a drink at his place; a beautifully restored terrace house on Broad Street in Stirling, a dozen doors down from the grandest Castle in Scotland [two hundred and fifty feet above the plain on an extinct volcano, the favourite residence of the Stuarts, including Mary who spent her childhood there and returned to be crowned.]

It was only ten miles away so how could I resist? George was Director of Musical Education for Stirlingshire and a pillar of the Music Society. His mother lived downstairs, (I never met her) he up, with a magnificent studio occupying the entire attic – most romantic with a grand piano and sloping roof, dim lights, and a red velvet couch on which we fumbled and groped to the strains of Beethoven's fifth symphony – or something similar. I remember the bombast outdid the orgasms. But he was a nice man and at that moment being a 'kept boy' seemed infinitely preferable to lonely bachelorhood.

Fortunately, perhaps, George only wanted an occasional lover because he couldn't risk anyone guessing. So, we met occasionally and very discreetly at his place where one evening at a soiree I sang a couple of Schubert lieder to his piano accompaniment, and later wowed the carefully selected guests with a striptease. The best fun I'd had for ages, despite being the youngest there by about twenty years! One morning as I left for work he gave me his house keys and tickets for a concert, so I could meet a friend who always stayed with him, a pianist who'd be performing in Stirling, and bring him back for the night – George had to travel to London.

After the brilliant Mozart, Brahms and Rimski-Korsakov recital, I waited with the 'Friends of Stirling Music Society' beside an indigestible buffet until Peter Katin appeared. His ill-fitting suit concealed a slim, athletic figure topped by a handsome face framed by longish, black straight hair – he was about thirty. I introduced myself and he made a joke about George setting him up with the only good-looking man in Stirling. As soon as decency permitted we escaped the boring old bats and their house-trained husbands (his words) and took a taxi back to George's.

Over a glass of wine that went straight to my head, we chatted about his music, his tours, his latest recordings, and his latest love – Turkey, where he'd recently made a concert tour and found the men friendly, sexy, and not averse to same-sex frolicking. I immediately determined to go there. The guest-room bed was large, and I lay back and watched as he removed shirt, trousers, underpants, and right leg from just above the knee. The stump was covered by a neat white cloth. He asked if it disturbed me. I replied truthfully that it didn't. I found it fascinating – nothing like the dreadful war wounds suffered by Sean Hockey and those other poor men I'd encountered at the baths in London.

Peter was the first person in the world to successfully test run an artificial leg with a flexing knee. Until then only stiff prostheses had been available, and the recipient walked with a pronounced limp – unattractive in a heartthrob young virtuoso – Lord Byron's club foot notwithstanding. It had been an extremely arduous and painful experience for him, but well worth it – his limp was scarcely noticeable. The wine, though, had a disastrous effect. It was my first alcohol for years and I gazed down in stupefaction… brewers' droop! But he was so sexy! He sweetly blamed the wine and I tumbled into dreamless sleep. In the morning he gave me his card and insisted I call him when I returned to London. He continued his tour of the UK, I returned to Alloa.

Several times a day, incompetent women teachers at Clackmannan Primary, where I taught next, would send boys to the headmaster to be punished, and the ghastly old Victorian structure echoed to sadistic thwacking. There wasn't another Camp until the following March so, sickened by the cruelty, I decided to spend winter in London.

Rosie, a 30-year-old teacher I'd met at the camp, begged to ride pillion as far as York where her parents lived. The ride was cold, wet, dangerous – Lambrettas are top heavy and lethal at the best of times, but in rain with a fat-bummed female behind? We made it to York in driving rain only to be hit by a car. She slid off the back, undamaged; I woke in hospital. Nothing serious, and my recuperative week on her parents' small farm just outside the city was wonderful.

Rosie's mother's meal of roast beef and real Yorkshire pudding was the first food I remember being ready to die for. Not so welcome was Rosie slipping into my bed demanding a fuck. I closed my eyes and thought of Portugal.

York is a delightful medieval city surrounded by Roman walls, and its Lord Mayor outranks the Lord Mayor of London. He was a simple ex-farmer, an old friend of Rosie's parents, and invited us to tea and gave me a pen emblazoned with the City of York's coat of arms.

The next day I set off for London, only to fall off at the first corner.

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