Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 37


Living apart was not an option!

But Europe wasn't united. I wasn't allowed to live permanently in Holland. Jürgen couldn't get permission to live in France. Heterosexuals could get married to solve that problem. We had to live together! But where? The only options were countries that accepted both Dutch immigrants and British colonials. That meant Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. It also meant I would have to quit my favourite country, and Jürgen his homeland and family.

We tossed a coin.

At the New Zealand Embassy in Rotterdam, Jürgen filed an application for immigration. It would take about six months to process.

We had six months to say 'goodbye' to Europe.

I handed in my resignation to Berlitz. It felt like cutting off an arm.

Thanks to my refusal to spend money on anything not conducive to health and genuine happiness, I'd managed to save a little. But how long would it last? A simple calculation indicated that, converted to U.S.A. dollars, we had enough to last for six months if we spent no more than four dollars a day – for the two of us.

The popular travel guide - Europe on $5.00 a Day, convinced us we'd be okay because their estimate included staying in pensions and youth hostels.

We bought small rucksacks, cheap sleeping bags, a billy, a petrol cooker, and a water bottle to share. After packing them, there was just enough space for one pair of long trousers, shorts, two shirts, socks, underpants, pullover, my battery Philips electric razor, a raincoat and sandals.

Then one sunny morning we stood by the roadside, held out our thumbs and set off hitchhiking through every country in Western Europe, then on to Turkey and Iran… buying flour and sugar, cheese and eggs, cooking most meals in the billy in quiet spots away from prying eyes, drinking only water, sleeping under bushes, in culverts, in forest and parks… always leaving the place cleaner than we'd found it with no trace of our stay. Cheap pensions or hotels were a last resort in crowded cities. Never taking public transport, walking for miles and miles to all the places of interest we simply had to see, washing in rivers, public fountains, and at roadside taps, never leaving soap residues or other evidence of our passing, always looking neat, fresh, clean, and shaved, unlike most other hitch-hikers who apparently thought being tough meant not washing body, clothes, or hair. They gave themselves away, however, by eating in restaurants and always sleeping in youth hostels or cheap hotels, never under bushes like us. Despite being two men, we enjoyed the most astonishing generosity and hospitality from locals in villages and towns, and always got rides within a few minutes, whereas other hitchhikers' scruffiness meant they frequently ended up taking a bus.

Jürgen was the first educated, civilized person I'd met who enjoyed living like that, and whose likes and interests coincided with mine. If we could survive for a year constantly in each other's company, we could obviously put up with each other for the ninety-nine years we promised one glorious afternoon in the colourful medieval apse of Saint Germain des Prés in Paris.

After seven months we received notification while in Tehran that his application for immigration had been successful, so we hitched back to Holland and booked the cheapest possible berths on the Flavia, a smallish Italian liner sailing via the Panama Canal.

Four weeks sharing a cabin on the lowest deck with ten other single men was not as bad as expected. We spent the days on deck swimming, sunbathing, playing bridge, warding off females, and, having no money to spare, went to bed early with time for a cuddle; Jürgen in the top bunk, me standing beside my lower berth, a bag in front of the closed door as a warning, ready to pretend we were simply chatting.

The voyage was fun, especially the Panama Canal and Tahiti, and we arrived in Auckland relaxed but increasingly nervous. The Dominion of New Zealand had adopted the confrontational British political and legal systems without question, including laws stating it was a serious criminal offence for any male to touch another male's sexual organ.

Fortunately, it wasn't considered strange for a young man to return from his Overseas Experience with a friend, and as there were numerous Dutch immigrants, even his nationality wasn't odd.

I've never believed in lucky stars or any other supernatural ephemera, but our good luck has never ceased to astonish me. It could have something to do with the fact that we have no unrealistic expectations and accept whatever is on offer, making the best of it.

We landed in Auckland. It seemed very small and provincial to my now worldly eyes. Stayed with a University friend for two days to collect our trunks from the hold of the ship, then used almost the last of my savings on train tickets to Wellington, and ferry fares to Lyttleton – the port of Christchurch.

In Wellington, Jürgen wandered into the Head Office of the Department of Agriculture – the largest employer of scientists - and asked if they needed one.

They did! In a country town a hundred kilometres up the coast, so while he went there by bus for an interview, I went to the Education Department and to my astonishment they offered me a teaching job in the same town!

It was the start of the six-week summer school holidays, so we took the overnight ferry and my parents were waiting in Lyttleton. They welcomed Jürgen warmly, insisting he call them Mum and Dad. [My father developed a particular affection for him that lasted until his death.]

After Christmas we moved north to our jobs, which we both enjoyed immensely. A tiny, fourth-hand fiat 500, was all the wheels we could afford, but it was reliable for trips to the beach and surrounding forest ranges. A year later Jürgen was transferred to Auckland, so I broke my contract and applied for work in that city – vast in area, if not in population. Incredibly, I ended up in the best job I've ever had in an establishment whose boundaries touched those of Jürgen's research institute! Our elegant rented flat was a five minute walk away.

We love each other unconditionally, but that doesn't mean we never argue. I'm a pushy bastard, Jürgen isn't, but he can dig his heels in deeper than I can push, so as we're both enthusiastically independent our arguments can be loud and explosive. Fortunately, the tenants in the upstairs flat were even noisier and more argumentative than us, but the single lady in the adjoining flat was not impressed.

Not so long ago, a young Internet correspondent was shocked to learn that after more than half a century together, Jürgen and I still argue. I explained that only people who don't love each other don't argue. They don't care what their partner feels, and if they get annoyed they clear out. We bicker and argue for fun sometimes, ending with a laugh at our idiocy. Most arguments occur because people are overtired. It's fun making up, even if it occasionally takes a long time. We've never been silly enough to go to bed with an argument unsorted. It'd be a grave mistake to let one's partner brood over an injustice all night.

Because 'only married couples argue', we decided to avoid unwanted assumptions about our relationship by seeking somewhere more secluded. With a small loan we bought a ten-acre block of land in the Waitakere Ranges thirty minutes away, where we designed and built our first simple little house. On weekends we'd drive past a commercial building site, make drawings of what we had to do next, then continue on and follow our sketchy instructions, using only hand tools as there was no electricity and we couldn't afford power tools anyway.

It worked. The building inspector had no complaints so we moved in and Jürgen had a vast area to fill with plants, and I had a house to finish, fences to build, and three cows, six sheep and a dozen hens to house and water.

Utter bliss! No neighbours near enough to notice us. We could shout as loud as we liked.

To paraphrase the old song, two can live as cheap as one, and it surely is a lot more fun. We were both earning good money and are both naturally frugal, only wanting what is possible, and not wanting anything that isn't conducive to a happy life, so we saved money. Needless to say, our definition of happiness is not that espoused by everyone we meet.

Home grown, unsprayed fruit and vegetables and our own home-killed and butchered meat, together with lots of exercise kept us happy, healthy and out of trouble.

Looking back, I'm astonished at our energy – full time jobs, keeping the property fenced and productive, going to every performance of live theatre, film Festivals, the beach, skiing at Ruapehu, dinner with friends, mainly heterosexuals because gays didn't approve of us setting a bad example to young gays. We weren't hedonists and didn't party. Worse, we were monogamous, and have been since the day we met. Free love was the mantra in the late sixties and seventies and every homosexual man or woman had a duty to spread their love, to have sex with as many people as possible. Not be selfish. Not emulate the heterosexual enemy!

We didn't take their advice, have never contracted a dread disease, and are now considered to be the norm… ho-hum queers living in boring domesticity.

'And who does the cooking?' Female visitors ask sweetly, because hets can't help assuming that one plays the woman while the other the man. They seem incapable of understanding that if I wanted a woman I'd have married one. I want a man, full stop. Certainly not a man who acts like a woman! We're just ourselves - like everyone else.

To be fair, it is a reasonable question. Heterosexuals today also have a problem deciding on their roles. With us, whoever got hungry first, cooked. Whoever got sick of the mess first, tidied it up. We gravitated to the things we preferred. I like machines and will follow instructions. Jürgen has an indomitable spirit that accepts no harness - definitely no instructions from maintenance manuals and recipe books, so he digs gardens, gathers seeds, propagates, and harvests. He also doesn't mind shopping. That's a type of harvesting. I'd rather starve than go to a supermarket. I'll dig gardens but can't be bothered to pick the fruits. We just fit together. Whether by instinct or necessity I've no idea.

As for sex - human sexual activity varies from total celibacy to mass orgies; from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality, with every possible permutation in between. After the initial few years of almost insatiable sexual appetite, sex assumes it's rightful place – a pleasant activity that cements a relationship. It becomes less important than eating and sleeping, because you can't do without either of those two things. It is character and compatibility that counts, not the gender of the person you love or the way you achieve satisfaction or how often. As I never tire of repeating… Loving companionship, that's what it's all about in the end.

After twenty years, the bare hill we bought had become a tree and shrub-filled pleasure garden. We had taken regular holidays abroad, mainly to Europe, visiting the U.S.A. and the East on the way. At first by ship, and then by plane, recharging our 'cultural batteries' as my Headmaster used to say.

Eventually, the endless wind, wet and cold of New Zealand got to us. We had saved enough to retire and looked around for somewhere warm. Giving up my teaching position was a severe wrench, as I'd developed good relationships with students over the years – a few of whom occasionally still communicate thirty years later. Jürgen did not like leaving the research side of his work, but was pleased to be leaving the backbiting competitiveness of other scientists.

As we were only forty-eight, we considered spending five years in each of a series of different countries, but after researching population, security, financial and political stability etc, we took an extended drive along the East Coast of Australia and decided we'd done enough travelling. The world had changed too much. It wasn't fun any more.

After an interesting year in Brisbane, we settled further north in a beach suburb in the sub tropics – pleasantly warm but no cyclones, crocodiles, dengue, malaria or stingers that make the tropics unpleasant.

We bought and renovated several houses, I acted in a few plays, we swam a great deal, Jürgen made gardens in every property, while I brought everything up to scratch and maintained it. Predictably, the charming beachside town grew exponentially with hordes of retirees streaming up from the south for sunshine, so we sold everything and moved to our present forested acreage in the hinterland, where over the last twenty years Jürgen has turned a stony hillside with a scattering of scrawny eucalypts into a luxurious forest with fruit trees, shrubs and vegetables, alive with a hundred varieties of birds, large monitor lizards, kangaroos, bandicoots, echidnas, insects…

Everything is wild and natural – no lawns and paths, just walkways like tunnels under trees, like living in a real forest – and all created by a couple of ageing men, usually without the aid of power tools. It's become a geriatric playground. Occupational therapy because getting old's no joke. When you're young you stay more or less fit no matter what you do and eat. But by the time you've been going for more than seventy years, keeping fit and healthy is a delicate balancing act.

Having 'done' the working, travelling, parties, concerts, socialising thing, we're now contented with our own company. We know what we're missing and don't imagine we are missing out.

A while ago on TV a patronising interviewer asked a sprightly ninety-nine year old, "How did you manage to get so old?' "I didn't die," she responded tartly. And that's more or less how people's relationships become life-long; they don't give up. It has nothing to do with being queer or straight. Couples are couples. And despite the entire world-order being weighted in favour of heterosexual marriage, in some ways it's as hard for hets to stay together as for us. Their friends are always ready to gossip, seduce, and create problems. In-laws start stress fractures and half of all marriages break down. A good relationship has nothing to do with sexual orientation, but everything to do with wanting one and working hard to keep it.

Like all living things, we are constantly changing/growing, so there's no possibility of getting bored with each other. With time, a relationship between equals becomes deeper, more complex, more and more interesting. Other people cease to be stimulating except through their creations, because one so easily plumbs the superficial façade they present.

We've never thought of separating because I remember too clearly the lonely searching for a mate at twenty-four. I'm one of those unfortunates who feel incomplete without someone to love. We've got used to each other. The snappy remarks that used to wound mean nothing. Horrendous arguments blow over. An occasional lack of interest isn't a deliberate insult - certainly not worth risking the loss of having someone else in the other chair every evening, listening to music, watching television, reading, talking, or just sitting. It's useful having someone to tell you honestly what you look like or how dumb you've been, and it's fun to keep your body trim when someone's there to praise the result. Perhaps the best thing is that the same lines, sags and pouches appear on your mate as on yourself.

Loneliness and hard work poisons the soul. With no one to show things to, my heart would break, in the same way as visiting Venice alone invites a terminal case of sadness. Everyone has to feel needed, challenged, excited, useful, angry, fearful, loving and loved from time to time. Anonymous sex and drugs are what people turn to if those needs aren't filled. But a permanent, loving relationship provides all that and more. There's no need for drugs.

A lifelong, loving relationship is not an impossible dream if you have realistic desires and a determination to see them through. Instant and continual happiness is never going to happen to anyone, but friendship and love will bring contentment - a much more valuable state than impermanent happiness.'

Carpe Diem. Grab the day. We exist in a constant series of present moments, so enjoy the moment, because we only exist in the present and if we don't enjoy each present moment, then we will never enjoy anything. We do not exist in the future, and living in the past with memories is a poor substitute for reality.

I have no regrets about anything I've done, but my heart still thumps if I think about what my life would have been had our paths not crossed that evening, and if we'd hesitated instead of grabbing hold of the most valuable thing any human can experience – love.

RT. July 2018.

Oh Who Is That Young Sinner?

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.
Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they're hauling him to justice for the colour of his hair.

A E Houseman.

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