I just popped out to buy a sharp suit and a laptop. Damn, some of those sales guys talk up a storm, don’t they?
We’re off to Brittany for a week on Friday so from then the Papers will be blank until our return. Rain is forecast, but we’re Brits and too much sun makes us uneasy. Good things will happen: wine is cheap, food is good, and we’re to meet up with Rosie and Lucy .
This must now be the final draft of a poem that has been very slow in evolving. Written at a time of much experimentantion with rhytme and metre, I’ve been calibrating and re-calibrating it ever since. With the 40th anniversary of the moon landing at hand, I shall let it stand as it is.
MICHAEL COLLINS ORBITS THE MOON
I am elected watchman. It’s my lot to turn and turn in my tiny cradle. Not to be my fortune or my obligation to first-foot the moon and talk to nations.
Not for me grey beach or empty ocean, nor earthlight or the silent locomotion of the stars. Uncrowded by the legion voices of the world I turn. The world rejoices
and I curl into the secret night behind the moon. In amniotic light I float, an embryo, a silver plan. This egg will carry me unborn while man
takes giant steps below. And thus, unhatched, Columbia’s adrift, initials scratched on incomprehensible darkness. I’m serene in my awful solitude at sea between
the impassive weight of galaxies and the husk of the moon. I close my eyes; a kind of dusk prevails, half-memory of quotidian time, a rhythm bound into the steady rhyme
of seasons. And I dream of the shifting grass of prairies, mesas, lost highways that pass, relentless and unbending, by outposts, forts and cowtowns whose brave boothill ghosts
still ride the range. I dream of empty homesteads whose screendoors bang on windy nights, tin sheds, barbed wire and oil-well donkeys, one blind end to the sand, the other to the stars. Old trails bend
and turn upon themselves where pioneers pause inside their journeys to write down their laws and call these scratches in the sand Jerusalem. But night brings stars - still over Bethlehem
or here like a choir triumphant. As I ride Columbia round the horn of moon, a tide of voices wakes me, calling out the charter of my race: small steps are mighty steps, ad inexplorata.
What follows at great length shifts the focus of this blog away from its usual subject matter, which, however personal to its creator, might claim some universalising elements. This is an account of subjective experience and I recognise that both the writing and publishing of it performs, in the first and maybe the last instance, a therapeutic function.
This presentation doesn’t represent a permanent shift from familiar territory. Normal service will be resumed with the next post. But it’s important to me to take this wayward step now and – as stated before – it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. And since behind the masks most of us are constituted in pretty much the same fashion, it‘s possible that it may resonate elsewhere.
The History of a State of Mind
That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent. Chinese Proverb
Anxiety is humanity’s default state. Death, taxes, anxiety – the three inevitables. Through all of our triumphs and our falls from grace, our towering rages and our blissed-out ecstasies, anxiety defies transcendence and grounds us in a permanent present made hostage to tomorrow’s fears.
And so, by and large, we accommodate it. It tracks us but we cope. Fear ringed by doubt, says Malcom Lowry, is my eternal moon. Yes, that’s it and wherever we go we move within its penumbra. Then something untoward causes that moon to shine the brighter and the careful calibration whereby anxiety was held in check shifts and we’re in thrall.
For me, as for you, the taproot of quotidian anxiety is buried deep within childhood. Its core substance is fear, primal, elemental and inchoate, the child’s sense of the falling away of all structure and order. In search of my own informing fear, all minute scrutiny arising from piecemeal reflection has taken me back to familiar landscapes and well-remembered rooms and those fragmentary scenes played out within them have been reprised again and again. And, paradoxically, they have arisen as frequently from contexts of remembered warmth and security as from settings of froideur and alienation.
My childhood was a happy one. And yet, and yet... I knew with certainty, nearly all the time, that my parents loved me and that my happiness and security was their priority. And yet there was a fault line, narrow but deep and long, that ran through the family ground. Tracking it back patiently, step by step through the years, I have found that it started at the childbed where my mother lay on the Christmas night of my birth.
When my parents married in 1938, they took a flat in Balham, South-West London. At the beginning of the War, Mum did some temping work for a young articled clerk, A., shortly to take his accountancy exams, and shortly after that to be posted to RAF Coastal Command in India. Having no family in London (or, functionally, anywhere else), he was looking for accommodation and he moved into the spare room in my parents’ flat.
I have written elsewhere, both in prose and verse, of these times and of the strange triangular relationship that evolved rapidly between my parents and A. He was my father’s junior by 11 years and my mother’s by 8 – a gap insignificant nowadays, but telling then. With only a pair of maiden aunts and a brother in South Africa as blood family, my youthful mother and father effectively parented A. In return, A. committed himself to them with an unwavering loyalty that endured throughout their long lives. Although as a senior partner in an international accountancy firm, he had his own flat in the centre of London, he spent every weekend with my parents and, after my father and A. retired, they spent every winter and spring at his house on the Cote d’Azur.
The fact is my mother rapidly became entirely dependent on both men. And they in turn became accustomed to their fixed positions either side of her, the one the adoring and constant life partner, the other the steadfast filial devotee and boon companion. For many, approval and validation provided in such unstinting measure would lead to empowerment and growth – the ability to self-motivate through a belief in their own substance and worth. But for reasons that continue to frustrate my attempts to analyse and understand with clarity, my mother was either unable to step forward from between my father and A. towards some kind of free mutuality or she simply chose not to.
Mum spoke often throughout her life of having confounded her own mother’s aspirations for her. Frustrated in her ambitions to become a teacher by a hidebound working class Victorian father, my grandmother had hopes that my mother would choose some similar direction. A spirited and somewhat rebellious daughter, she showed no such inclinations and her legacy – whether imposed or adopted, I never found out – was an overwhelming sense of her mother’s deep disappointment in her. Into young adulthood and marriage and throughout her long life, Mum sought approval, validation, praise, love out of an all-consuming need.
And within that triangle she found it and it became her sustenance and support, feeding that need but never assuaging it. As a result, her emotional capacity was entirely reliant on the circulation of a steady current of refined love and personal endorsement, unpolluted by negative judgement or censure. And if anything compromised the free flow of that current – Dad’s occasional impatience or A’s frosty withdrawal – Mum was distraught, concealing an eruption of guilt, perceived inadequacy and agitated anxiety behind a Janus mask of aggression and melodramatic collapse. In the face of which display, Dad and A. would buckle instantly and fly to her side to minister and comfort and so restore the healing source.
By the time I came along, the triangle was firmly in place. I occupied the territory within its three sides. As an only child I was contained and cherished. My material requirements were anticipated and provided for; songs were sung to me; stories were read to me; I was encouraged in my early endeavours; I was comforted in distress; I was loved. But there prevailed a set of unquestioned protocols that governed the functioning of the family to which all were subject: that my mother’s emotional needs be prioritised in all situations.
In babyhood this was no problem: I was simply a symbiotic extension of my mother and where she benefitted, so did I. But as the dual autonomies of a growing sense of the world beyond my tiny self and will power began to develop in childhood, our interests began to diverge. The glorious guilt-free selfishness of the infant made no allowance for the febrile sensibilities of the adult and the conflicts between mother and son began.
By the time I was of infant school age – four, rising five – I was entirely accustomed to a standard pattern of behavioural cause and effect. A clash would occur; positions would be taken up; I would be resolute and unyielding; my mother would fly the scene, run upstairs and throw herself on the bed. Unvaryingly, neither Dad nor A. would react in anger. One would trudge patiently up the stairs to provide succour; the other would crouch down beside the implacable child, still weeping, still defiant. “I think maybe you should go up to Mum and say sorry, old chap”, he would murmur. No obligation, no insistence, no demand – just a gentle appeal to what must surely be nascent conscience, some basic sense of what is appropriate in the circumstances. And always, into the turbulent wake of the child’s protestations of injustice and the refusal to make good, a small but devastating morsel of disappointment would be dropped.
And so, with Larkin-esque inexorability, the alienation and isolation, the resentment and the guilt, ‘steepened like a coastal shelf’. Baffled by the chaotic contradictions arising from a situation within which authentic love and caring were so clearly in evidence in counterpoint to the relentless and unyielding assertion of my mother’s emotional rights, I became anxious and insecure. Physical self-confidence was non-existent: competitive games, tree-climbing, play-fighting, scrambling over rocks defeated me completely. Large gatherings focussed on specific activities terrified me: kids’ parties, school assemblies, church services induced in me a sense of impotence and suffocation. Any context within which some expectation of the participants prevailed defeated me from the start. By the age of 7 weekdays were blighted by school phobia and nights by alternating insomnia and nightmares. Already recreationally and creatively self-sufficient as an only child, I retreated into myself and the microworld of my books (I was reading by age 3) and my toys.
Anxiety in children is originally nothing other than an expression of the fact they are feeling the loss of the person they love, Freud tells us. Inasmuch as I had to deal with the inexplicable opposition set up between a love that I took for granted but also experienced constantly as eclipsed by my mother’s absorption of all the emotional energy created in times of conflict, there may have been some truth for me in this proposition. One thing is certain through the relative wisdom of hindsight: the tension set up and maintained throughout my childhood by this self cancelling equation was a major disabling factor in my early emotional development. It blurred my perception of the right functioning of family dynamics and through adolescence and into youth and adulthood infected my own capacity to initiate and manage close relationships and, ultimately, my first attempts at family.
With the same scrutiny of hindsight, I am certain now that had my parents not had the courage and enlightenment to take me out of traditional education and to place me in a small Summerhill-style progressive school, New Sherwood, a half hour bus ride from home, I’m sure that the effects of my domestic destabilisation would have been much more severe. In the final analysis, I see in this decision the clearest evidence of the predominance within that complex mesh of intra-personal relations of their love for me and their ultimate desire for my happiness and well-being.
I emerged from weekly boarding at New Sherwood five years later tougher and bolder. I left full boarding at Wennington School at the age of 18 with the determination to change the world. I could kick a ball the length of a football pitch, climb to the top of a beech tree, throw a large opponent to the ground using the judo trip-fall osotogari, and hurtle down a Cumbrian scree run. And I could bellow harmony parts to the hymns we sung in Sunday Assemblies.
I had discovered that I was presented with options: that there were alternative emotional alignments and equations and that my understanding of relationship dynamics didn’t have to be dictated by those aspects of family structure that inhibit and disable. I had learned, overall, how to manage my fears, negotiate within the family so as to maximise that which was positive and whole, and, beyond, to function on the world’s terms. And all of this empowered me and provided me with choices.
But management is not cure and I have carried my deeply seated legacy of anxiety through life. It operates as a constant baseline counterpoint to all that I think, feel and do. Most of the time it presents no functional problem and is controlled through a set of response devices. But in circumstances in which there may be cause for genuine concern, it rises like a tide and augments and exacerbates it, distorting the true picture, defying all objective rationality and causing in its worst manifestations real distress and functional difficulty.
Its current viral operation is on my perception of the condition of my sarcoidosis. My specialist insists that it is mild and manageable, in spite of the recent bouncing around of the blood test readings that indicate the level of its activity. It’s not active in the lungs – the most common (and debilitating) of sarcoid sites – and where we know it to exist (in the lymph glands in the chest, in the right eye and in the form of small lesions on the hands), it’s causing TW, my consultant, no concern and me no discomfort. But when the prospect of having to be on a course of the immunosuppressant prednisolone (the standard treatment for lowering the sarcoid-indicating ACE levels in the bloodstream) is set alongside the predictions of a massive increase in swine flu infection by the autumn, the compound of sensible concern and onboard anxiety balloons out of my control and becomes a problem in its own right.
Which is how things are now. And to avail myself of some assistance in doing battle with what I now define to myself as an emotional condition, I have started a course of counselling. I don’t anticipate the process as one of coruscating soul-searching or demon confrontation. Nor do I perceive it as a process of spiritual salving, seeking out my Higher Self or anything involving healing with an upper case ‘H’. I see it more as a search guided by an expert for practical strategies to deal with something that will never dissipate or diminish so that I can lead a more fulfilling and untrammelled life here with those I love and within myself.
It seems to me that if we’re to see growth as a continuing process that only ends with our extinction, we must each of us do what we can to accommodate, to negotiate, to manage that which is unformed, malformed or fragmented within us. There is nothing else that has greater value or priority – for ourselves and for the world we inhabit.
I’ve just had my poem Wavelengths – celebrating the joys of ham radio (go with me on this one) – accepted by Hobble Creek Review. And yesterday I received my copy of print mag Brittle Star containing The Ties That Bind.
I’m working on a lengthy post that I aim to upload later today. It’s principally a piece of therapy for me (It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to...), but I hope that there may be resonances for some readers.
STOP PRESS! Thought I'd covered this in the comment response to the previous post, but it's not clear amongst the banging on about myself! Reuben's fine now. Thesymptoms were close enough to those for swine flu for the emergency line doctor to recommend treating it as such. But during the following day his temperature gradually went down and now he's in the garden with Emma picking broad beans. Something gastric, I suspect. There's a vomiting bug on the move locally so maybe it was that. Thanks for the concern, everyone.
Slow Dancing is the seventh and (to date) closing poem in the Ancient Lights sequence featured at the end of June.
A long time away from home; too much needing to be said, and so, after smiles and silence, Dad began to talk about the War:
Home Guard manoeuvres on the common, chucking hand grenades at concrete blocks. And Mum remembered the doodlebugs that split the ceiling,
shedding plaster on the lodger’s bed the day before he flew in from Johannesburg on leave. The central heating clicks,
the autumn evening clogs the windows and it seems as if old leaves will bank against the doors. But memory rings, pure as a struck
glass and a sort of luminescence pushes shadows back. Clocks stop in their tracks. Invisible, unbodied like a wireless ghost, I hear faint music
and the tread and slide of dancing feet in some abandoned ballroom. Now I am a guest between the sideboard and those books along the wall
whose patient stillness framed my childhood. I watch them both slow dancing back towards the days of different light, their dream-time.
No hits for seven hours. Lowest stats ever. Well, this tale of potential woe will have to be launched in a bottle, to wash up where it will.
At around 9.45 last night Reuben appeared on the stairs complaining of feeling sick. He was very hot and clearly had a temperature. (The thermometer’s broken so I couldn’t read how high.) Then he threw up all over the sofa. I ‘phoned the swine flu line and the nurse to whom I spoke felt that there weren’t enough symptoms in evidence to make that diagnosis but that I must monitor the situation and ‘phone the doctor first thing in the morning.
We both slept fitfully and at 5.20 he was fully awake, still with a high temperature. Now he complained of a headache, sore throat and pains in his neck, all symptoms consistent with a flu-like condition. I rang the emergency doctor and she urged that I contact my GP first thing, which I have just done.
So far swine flu is presenting mildly in the UK so if he has got it maybe this is the best time to languish. There are predictions of 150,000 cases a day by the end of August and significantly more as we move into autumn and winter and family immunity now would be something of a blessing.
Unfortunately the situation isn’t quite so straightforward for me. I’m currently on a regime of prenisolone, the cortico-steroid that is the only defence against the sarcoidosis with which I was diagnosed two years ago. It’s an immunosuppressant, which, of course, makes me a good deal more susceptible to infection and, if infected, less able to fight off any virus that might be in place. So my anxiety at this time is not for Reuben, who will experience any infection mildly and only for a few days.
Sitting here now, symptom-free thus far, my concern is that if he does have swine flu, I’m in for a rocky ride. At the practice we use there are two GPs in whom we have considerable faith. Sadly, neither was available this morning and the doctor to whom I spoke was the one that we normally avoid at all costs. He has informed me that he won’t prescribe tamiflu in anticipation of mere possibility and that I must await the onset of symptoms before any action can be contemplated – this regardless of my particular vulnerability. This is the more disappointing since the emergency doctor hoped that my GP would be enlightened enough to take precautions before the event and regretted that, because of NHS rulings, she was unable to prescribe on my behalf.
So, it’s going to be a long day: Emma’s away on a school trip and won’t be back until this evening and I’ve got all three kids at home just in case. There’s a 7-day incubation period for swine flu so if that’s what Reuben’s got then all of us will have to head through the next week in hope: hope that, in some respects, Emma, Rosie and Maisie get it now and earn a little subsequent immunity; hope that, somehow, it passes me by.
The following is a re-jigging of a poem I wrote four years ago. Interested in breaking free from the constraints of relatively conventional form, I sprung out of cover an alter ego called Jago Flood and had him write a series of poems concerned more with sounds and visions than narrative and literality.
The challenge was to try to write directly from the raw impulse, the point at which the irresistible drive to write begins but has as yet to select and marshal language into form and shape. What I found was that even at that inchoate growth point a monitoring process takes place and a discipline kicks in. At the moment the first word emerges to frame a sense impression, the next word is in the breech.
NAMES OF THE MOON
Sucked pebble: tongued smooth by black sand. Starflecks on a sable field, sour white, bleached as night, juice dried, a flat splash.
Old coin: dun metal edged like a flint shard, spent, effaced, the ghost profile watching west, the setting point.
Bleached horns: hook hanging, depending nothing but planet-wrack, clipped strings of light, the dead hair of comets.
Broken button: tugged and twined, frayed against the cape and cowl, shrugged high and loose in ice-heart marrowbone dark.
Flat cataract: milk or smoke or silica, obscuring the macula, watching only what she remembers of red shift, of spectrum drift.
Abalone pearl: infected by a flushed horizon thus pink and purple, elliptical meniscus, frozen albumen.
Eyes in the night: tsuki, menes, chand, spogmay, he’ni, loar, namwaikaina.
For all the heady freedoms that, supposedly, came cascading down through the decades following the swinging ‘60s, there remain in this country pockets of deep and abiding prurience concerning issues of sexuality. Whilst every self-respecting soap and reality show will ensure the bold representation of same-sex relationships, many amongst their hardcore aficionados will continue to judge and censure when encountering them away from the TV screen. By and large, theory seems to have been accommodated. Campness - preferably extravagant to the point of crass stereotype - is simply one more comic gambit in the presenter’s behavioural vocabulary. A British audience likes nothing more than clunky gags and sniggering puns that allude to his gender preferences, particularly if directed at some hapless contestant plucked from the front row. Practice, however, remains beyond the pale and careers have, at best, faltered when media revelations about an individual’s actual sexual activity out there in the real world have broken.
Forty years ago, of course, one would have expected nothing else. My secondary schooling ran …between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles' first LP, during which time, Philip Larkin tells us, more with cultural than evolutionary accuracy, sexual intercourse began.
In my case he was actually on the nail. But what casually held and shamelessly expressed prejudices preceded my own journey towards more empirical enlightenment concerning the realities of sexuality. I attended a mixed boarding and day school established and run by a Quaker couple, Kenneth and Frances Barnes, with very advanced views on teenage sexual development. Eschewing the standard form whereby sexual awareness had the currency of witchcraft, only to be hinted at darkly through veiled references to beastliness and sensuality, the Barnes’ employed a tactic of direct confrontation. We would gather somewhat formally of an evening in their well-appointed sitting room, with its views across the Yorkshire farmland that surrounded the school on all sides. Then, once we were distributed across sofa, chairs and floor – the favoured few grouped around Kenneth’s armchair, arms clasped around knees somewhat in the manner of the painting The Boyhood of Raleigh - the session would begin.
It was basically a question and answer process, resembling more a philosophy tutorial than an open discussion. There was no censorship of topics; anything could be asked. But the expectation was that any answer provided would be accepted as incontrovertible fact. In this way we learned, first and foremost, that sexual yearnings are natural and that no shame should be felt when they occurred.
However (and here the fatal caveats began), sexual energy was volatile and thus dangerous and the inchoate and primitive yearnings to which all adolescents are prone must be kept in check. And, of course, the physical expression of such yearnings was appropriate only for adults within a properly sanctified marriage.
As for same-sex relationships, the possibility simply never arose. For the Barnes’, homosexuality was deviant. However, a compassionate and enlightened view was proposed: in the first instance, those afflicted needed guidance back towards the properly ordained orientation. If gentle but firm leadership didn’t work then clearly medical intervention might be necessary.
So all relationships were made subject to intense scrutiny by the Barnes’. Physical contact was proscribed: no hand-holding, no ‘canoodling’. Instead, a vigorous, wholesome, hearty companionship was demanded. If it was suspected that anything other than brisk walks across the fields, solemn discussion of current affairs or brow-furrowing sessions around the record player listening to classical music were going on, the boy and girl in question would be summoned to the sitting room for a grilling and a private lecture.
Had the Barnes’ touch been lighter – had they injected into their earnest, worthy dedication to the cause of authentic sexual enlightenment a little humour, a little personal circumspection - then maybe a small revolution in that corner of West Yorkshire might have anticipated by four or five years the cataclysm that reordered completely the socio-cultural landscape across the Western world.
But their minute observation of our behaviour was informed by a frequently articulated belief that the teenager was a hapless victim of his or her hormones. Adolescence was seen by Kenneth and Frances as too frequently an ugly, inarticulate condition in which order had constantly to be wrested from chaos. Metaphorical buckets of water needed to be positioned strategically so as to be available when we all went into rut. Pop music was discouraged to the point of being banned. Kenneth lumped all of it – rock’n’roll, which was then in decline, the anodyne pap that trailed it, the Dixieland and cool school sounds that the French teacher shared with us – under the heading of jazz. It was jungle music whose sole purpose was to inflame the carnal appetites. And the street fashions that were burgeoning at the time were viewed with palpable disgust. “You look like common prostitutes!” Frances exploded one dance night when a couple of girls turned up in skirts fashionably flounced up like lampshades under layers of stiffened petticoats.
And the consequence was, of course, that, in this febrile atmosphere we obliged readily and rose to the challenge. Getting away with at least a morsel of the rank feast from which the Barnes’ tried to keep us became an obligation. G. and I would discuss ceaselessly with all the zeal of brigands planning a skirmish who we would entice to our den in the school woods and how. We were hazier about what would actually transpire once there, but G. made it his personal quest to acquaint himself intimately with brassiere fastening technology so that business might be swiftly initiated. And night after night in the Summer Term expeditions would take us down the fire escape and onto the flat roof of the staff room so that we could slip through the window of the girls’ dorm that overlooked it. Once in there nothing of great consequence would ever take place. Bodies might lie stiffly side-by-side in a 3' wide bed and a little tight-lipped oscular action might take place, but after an hour or two we would climb back up the fire escape in some relief and then spend the remainder of the night marking our performances out of ten.
All of this absorbing preoccupation was, of course, heterosexual. With the clarity of hindsight, I can now identify with some certainty two of our number as gay. At the time nobody queried the nature of their friendship. That they spent nearly all their time together, frequently shunning the company of others, didn’t strike us as odd. G. and I were pretty much inseparable and it never occurred to us that others might see in this anything to be questioned. And the two friends joined in the tale-telling and played their part readily in the nocturnal expeditions. Had we even suspected that they might be more interested in each other than in five-out-of-ten (hand under sweater and onto outside of bra), we would have been horrified. For all the proliferation in showers and at bath time of ‘bum-chum’ and ‘arse-bandit’ terminology and the covet glances given to each other’s evolving equipment, the notion of relationship would have been unthinkable in its perversity. And such was our feverish consciousness of our own sexuality and its uncertain nature, focus and degree, it’s likely that we would have been systematic and merciless in our persecution.
One early Monday morning in winter, as we sat peeling potatoes in the unheated kitchen, A. - normally exploring an image spectrum somewhere between languid Oscar Wilde and noisy D.H. Lawrence - was unusually quiet. The others briefly distracted, he leaned towards me and told me that, the afternoon before, he and his girlfriend had ‘crossed the threshold’ (his uncharacteristically coy phrase) in the snow down in the pine woods. Something in the sobriety of the announcement – a certain tone of wonder, maybe – convinced me that it was his first time. From then on, A. took no further part in the fevered discussions of what we had done and to whom in the holidays and what we planned to achieve this term.
Not long after that, early in the spring and much to our mutual surprise and delight, my new girlfriend and I also crossed the threshold. And I too lost interest in the after hours dorm talks, my energies now engaged in the dual preoccupations of coping with a fully-fledged relationship and ducking below the Barnes’ well-tuned radar.
For all the delightful intensity of first-time love, it was in many ways a difficult and draining relationship. But all these many years later I surprise myself by being glad of it. From the dynamic of constant discovery, from the exhilaration of all that emotion in process, I learned my first lessons about mutuality.
I was 16 at the time and my prejudices remained intact for some while to come. I would have had real difficulty in projecting my own pleasures and pains into any perception of a same-sex relationship conducted by two of my peers, male or female. And even if some process of reflection arising from my voracious reading at the time had provoked a little enlightenment, the febrile atmosphere that prevailed at school, emanating from the Barnes’ obsessive and prescriptive concern for our psycho-sexual health would have stifled it.
But after a busy year in the world following graduation, it was my reading (notably James Baldwin’s Another Country) and the longer view available outside the hothouse of boarding school that provided the broader perspective. By the time I went to college at 19 and encountered for the first time open (if discreet) gay relationships within my social circle, some tolerance was in place and I accepted – not without a degree of prurient curiosity – their authenticity.
I would stop short of prescribing full sexual relationships for adolescents, gay or straight, within school as a crucial component in their emotional education! Whatever revolutionary changes ought to take place in curricular organisation, I don’t really see a place for timetabled intimacy. But I know that what minute quantity of empirical wisdom I managed to acquire at that most callow of times drew some of its substance from my conducting the very kind of relationship that Kenneth and Frances Barnes worked so hard to stifle. I would state again: there is no universal lesson to be extrapolated from my personal experience. But the need for informed, compassionate, non-judgemental and wise perceptions on the part of the educators in our schools is clearly paramount. It’s sad that our journey towards it remains so slow.
An earlier version of this post appeared in 2006.
Is sex better than smoking with friends under dripping trees?
Does it beat late-night vodka from the bottle?
And how does it compare to a one-hand catch just before the boundary?