The lesson plans were making poor
progress. Sadly, Simeon looked down
at a few untidy handwritten notes together
with a scattering of textbooks and judged
that he should have made more headway in
the time available. But how much
time had that been? Was it weeks, or
months, since his nervous breakdown?
His counsellor euphemistically referred to
this life changing event as a ‘break-through’
rather than a break-down. In
order to answer his own question, he
perused assorted typewritten sheets with
little success and, to tell the truth,
The problem was memory. Everything
was in a haze. When did he last see
his counsellor? He tried to remember
his face. It was a blur.
Fragments of their conversation floated in
and out of his consciousness. He’d
been warned the therapy might often feel
this way. Did he admit to that
counsellor that he was homosexual?
He couldn’t remember. Sometimes he
doubted there ever was a
counsellor: so confusing, like living a
dream, swimming in treacle.
Where was it all going anyway? All
this nonsense; wouldn’t it put him right
back in the classroom, again to
endure all the familiar misery? At
least in his present situation, Simeon
appeared to be protected by a shield of
He was still Mr Hogg. But this was a
pathetic Hogg who had lost his power.
The nasty elements had lost interest and
simply ignored him as they might ignore a
caretaker or a cleaner. There was no
fun in attacking ancillary staff.
Simeon had become invisible – and was that
such a bad thing? He was located
next to his old classroom. He was
established in a small room all to himself
with a view down a corridor the full
length of the block shared by Humanities
and the Sixth Form. Nearly two
thousand pupils filled the Valley
Comprehensive School staffed by nearly a
hundred teachers. Here he could
observe school life passing by.
There was the problem of his pension.
Simeon would have pressed for a clean
break with teaching altogether. He
wanted out. However small, he needed
an income to survive and was forced into
the option of therapy and counselling for
six months on half pay. And then
what? The mounting uncertainties
exacerbated his mounting anxieties.
But at least, regarding his erstwhile
tormentors, Simeon was at peace.
Simeon was invisible.
For most of the late 1970s, 1980s and
early 1990s, like most secretive gay men,
Simeon had always sought invisibility.
He spoke little of himself and avoided
social contact in and out of school.
In a staff of a hundred, there was a
probability of at least four other gay
teachers. He easily identified one
in the Art Department, one in the English
Department but other masculine men could
hide and blend in with the generality.
They might be bisexual and appear to he
happily married. They could stay
hidden forever, except, of course, when
Simeon came face to face with a butch
colleague from the Technical Department at
a Manchester gay sauna. After
fleeting eye contact, both were in denial
at that venue. Back at school, they
conscientiously avoided each other.
Simeon might have met other members of
staff (including lesbians) had he been a
frequenter of queer pubs - or, if he had
been a ‘scene bunny’, at a gay disco.
His revulsion of late nights, alcohol and
loud thumping music had limited his
activities to public toilets, certain
notorious woodland walks and Turkish
baths. As his 30s blended into 40s,
the dangers of toilets and woods became
more and more unacceptable making the
Turkish bath a favourite comfort zone.
The Harrogate Royal Baths, a safe distance
from Worksop, were like an eastern temple
dedicated to the god of pleasure and
sensuality. There was the richly
tiled Plunge Pool, together with Hot Room
Chambers - Tepidarium, Calidarium and
Laconium. The bather entered the dry
area, padded over soft, thick pile carpets
and progressed through exotic, tranquil
halls. These areas of rest beds were
resplendent with crafted wooden partitions
sporting occasional Arabian motifs to
complete the fantasy for recumbent fat
bathers – most of them retired with all
the time in the world.
These were the guilty ones, the soft,
flabby, shapeless, old men who furtively
observed any firm body in that plush
silence, that serene restfulness which
could have been a gentleman’s club in
London. Much was hanging in that
humid air, but little was said.
Simeon knew the rules. Like the
Derby Turkish Bath, the Harrogate Baths
were open to the general public - caution
and discretion were the watchwords.
According to Kinsey’s figures, 5% of the
population were exclusively homosexual,
but the reverse was almost always true
inside any British Turkish Bath where
perhaps one in 20 male bathers attended
exclusively for the pleasures of hot
steam, relaxation and therapeutic
benefits. For many decades before
the advent of ‘the gay bath house’, poorly
paid bath attendants gladly accepted big
tips to look the other way should they
stumble upon any illegal activity.
Most baths had a café area where tea,
coffee and tasty main meals could be
enjoyed in the comfort of hushed peace and
quiet. Here, polite conversations
were whispered between gentlemen who might
have recently been carnally acquainted.
In and around elaborate oaken cubicles
with luxurious maroon curtains, Simeon
soon encountered Mr Bill Bulman who was a
regular fixture and gentleman of character
with a rough manner, but very popular with
the staff. Underneath a hard shell,
he was courteous and always generous.
Pushing on a heavy door, a bather was hit
by an angry, gurgling hissing which seemed
to emanate from the subterranean depths of
Harrogate. Gingerly, he moved into
an opaque blinding fog of hot steam with
visibility further limited by inadequate,
low powered, amber bulbs. Carefully,
slowly, step by step, his eyes gradually
became accustomed to the nebulous
atmosphere. A cavern was discerned,
longer than it was wide, occupied by
occasional lumps of flesh, Lords of Lard
who silently lurked on stone benches, in
dark Turkish recesses on either side.
Simeon selected a vacant seat and sat
down. The heat felt good. The
shower was great, but after hours cycling
in cold rain, these lovely minutes of hot
haze penetrated deep into his cold bones.
Warmth and relaxation brought him to a
point where he closed his eyes, drifted
into a lethargic reverie and, for a few
minutes, came very close to sleep.
Suddenly the touch of flesh! He
looked up to see a fat face smiling
encouragement to engage in … well, Simeon
was no innocent. It reminded him to
progress further. He was expected in
deeper, denser steam and had yet to reach
his objective. He advanced into an
even darker section of the long, dimly lit
chamber of erotically charged vapours.
The first indication of an oversized
bather was the faint glint of something
shiny and metallic leaning next to the
mosaic wall. On closer inspection,
it resolved into the top of an expensive,
stout, walking stick – silver, in the
image of a bull’s head.
Peering into the vapours, he could hazily
discern the vague outline of what appeared
to be two figures. The first was no
fat man and [unusually in that
establishment] he was anything but soft.
It was the rear view of what Simeon
usually described as ‘a real, solid
bloke’. A well tanned hairy torso
was well supported above perfectly formed
muscular buttocks. Strong tattooed
arms suggested a rough working man, the
sort often referred to as ‘hairy arsed
miners’ by coarse, drunken slags who
staggered over Heanor Market Place in
Simeon’s early teenage days. He
never thought he would see such a macho
bloke, standing to attention, mouth wide
open, intoxicated with carnal delight.
The voyeur drew closer and was excited
hearing a deep purring of mounting
rapture. At the same time, this real
rugged bloke started to arch his back,
surrendering his manhood for the
delectation of another macho man, a big
man, who was seated. Two hands, big
hands with pleasure-giving digits, were
busy, wantonly stroking those firm
beautiful buttocks. They wandered
further, around dangling genitalia and
sought out secret places out of sight.
Also out of sight, hidden deep inside a
fat throat, was a stiff cock. It was
begging for release inside a salivating
grotto, complete with an experienced
muscular tongue, greedily extracting drops
of dribble before the final bliss – that
final, creamy jet of completion.
None of these extracurricular activities
could ever be discussed with colleagues at
the Valley School. When the public
corporation baths in various provincial
towns and cities began to clampdown on
their homosexual bathers, the exclusive
gay sauna emerged and grew in popularity.
Ronnie, Bobbie and Freddie
Simeon taught as he was taught in the
1950s. He was too strict, too
formal, too unwilling to modernise and
reluctant to embrace progressive,
child-centred trends in state education
which arrived in the 1980s. This ‘Mr
Chips’ mindset was a cloak to conceal the
continuing anxiety of leading a double
life. Inside, he was a frightened
homosexual trying to look like a confident
heterosexual on the outside. It had
to look like a teacher easily fitting in
with pupils and staff but more often than
not, the stern schoolmaster was sabotaging
his efforts to look human and come across
as an effective educator.
In two decades, only once did he achieve a
breakthrough and enjoy a friendly,
meaningful relationship with a group of
pupils. They were a boisterous bunch
of ruffians with an appalling reputation
throughout the school. Progressive
staff referred to the Ronnie, Bobbie and
Freddie mob as ‘challenging behaviour’.
Hard-nosed traditionalists abused them
with loutish language and occasional
violence to keep order and impose
discipline. Mr Hogg identified
himself with this ‘old guard’ but never
condoned corporal punishment.
This gang of three, by popularity and
sheer force of personality, imposed on the
rest of the class an influence which could
make life very difficult for a teacher who
took his work seriously. On one
occasion, after an onerous hour, Mr Hogg
dismissed the class but detained the
terrible trio. Unwisely perhaps,
they were ordered to remain behind,
explain their disruptive attitude and
suffer a reprimand. Simeon had
little confidence in his strategy - but it
was worth a try.
Many years on, without success, he tried
to recall and reconstruct this
extraordinary conference of four and
locate the exact point when everything
changed between the teacher and his
charges. The sea change happened
during a moment when a criticism of Ronnie
was interrupted by an effective heartfelt
defence from his number two – Bobbie.
In plain language normally considered
disrespectful to a member of staff,
despite limited articulation, Bobbie
managed to paint a picture of his best
friend who was experiencing all the
stresses and chaotic adolescent miseries
which could have been a 14-year-old
Effectively, the atmosphere of this
detention, this coerced punishment
suddenly transformed into a voluntary and
valuable meeting between four equals.
It was a magical moment, a sudden switch
from monochrome into glorious Technicolor
where three boys wanted to stay and
further explain their lives to an adult
who was now more counsellor than
It was a dodgy situation for Mr Hogg!
He was hearing confidential information
about his colleagues which was verging on
‘unprofessional conduct’. He was
hearing distressing details of their home
life. His sympathetic ear encouraged
further trust to the point that his
teacher status had morphed into the
confidentiality of the confessional.
Now treated like a newly acquired friend,
Simeon was begged to guard the secrets
which had been entrusted to him for safe
Were these revelations true? Were
these boys telling lies? In the
weeks which followed, cautiously and
casually, Simeon cross-referenced the
accounts with a few friendly colleagues
and one trusted deputy head who had access
to private files. Although the boys
hid behind a veneer of defiant swagger,
their new confidant concluded that there
was indeed a case to answer. They
were victims of an insensitive system all
too willing to exploit youths from a
deprived background and give three dogs a
bad name. Bobbie said,
‘I can’t help the way I speak, sir.
It’s me voice, it irritates folk.
It’s not my fault, sir. Honest.’
Simeon had always been annoyed by a
certain element of insolence in the
utterances delivered by Bobbie.
There was a sardonic tone which, at a low
level, challenged authority and continued
to chafe. Notwithstanding, he
accepted that the pupil’s lilt of speech
was natural, a part of Bobbie’s
personality. It was not
The new friendship was affirmed, enjoyed
by all four, but did not really solve any
problems. It reduced the stress of
teaching in that particular class and, by
osmosis; improved Mr Hogg’s standing in
the whole of that 4th Year.
So now, somewhere into the start of a new
academic year, Ronnie, Bobbie and Freddie
will now be 5th years. He
had not seen them. And that was a
pity. They were worth looking at,
especially Freddie, the cute one. Of
the three, he was the least assertive, not
to mention his perfect bottom well
displayed in close fitting trousers.
Simeon mentioned Freddie’s tempting
anatomy to a repressed married friend who,
like himself, was carefully navigating
around a secretive double life.
‘I’m a bit concerned about your lust!’
said the friend.
‘What do you mean?’ responded Simeon.
‘Well ... As teachers, aren’t we in a
position of trust? It’s not on is it
- leering at boy’s bums.’
‘I was not leering. A
lifetime of caution has taught me the art
of the crafty shufti. You are
a teacher. Are you telling me that a
desirable teenage arse has never
‘I suppose it depends on thoughts
remaining thoughts and never being put
into action,’ said the friend backing off.
‘Anyway, what would you do with Freddie?
You don’t do back passage. You’ve
been americanised. How did those
butch numbers in Detroit put it -
hitting the dirt road?’
‘True enough. Penetration is not on
my menu. What really
irritates me is the inequality, the
injustice, the double standards of our
‘What’s that supposed to mean!’ countered
the gay colleague.
‘It means you, a gay man, as randy
as me coming over all moral, tut-tutting
because I fancy Freddie’s nice bum when
you never said a dicky-bird after that
odious performance we all witnessed in the
staffroom last week!’
Simeon was referring to a few minutes of
light hearted banter between a few macho,
ribald, coarse colleagues. One, a
senior staff member, had allowed his
office to deteriorate into an unworkable
state of chaos. He asked a much
lusted after nubile 6th form girl to
rescue him from his self-inflicted
shambles. In a naughty narrative of
soft porn proportions, he aroused his
heterosexual all male audience into a
raucous mob of salivating sinfulness.
Simeon was particularly revolted by
repeated references to the girl being told
to pay special attention to the lower
shelves - making it necessary for her to
bend down and bend over. The senior
member of staff delighted in a graphic
description of the way her knickers
revealed her ‘sexy bum’. Hoots,
cheers and loud guffaws encouraged further
Simeon condemned and berated his
hypocritical homosexual colleague for
laughing along during this prurient
‘Well! Didn’t you join in with them?
‘I’ll be damned if I did! My
head was deeply buried in The Guardian.
I’ll admit to cowardice, but not to any
complicity. I’ll also confess to
envy in that people like us could never
enter into such banter... ’
‘Which,’ interrupted the other,
‘could not be condoned in a situation
where a professional is employed in a
position of trust?’
‘Touché,’ parried Simeon, concluding a
rather fractious exchange between two
repressed gay men.
During this time of the late 1970s in the
Valley Comprehensive School, discipline
and respect for masters was rapidly
deteriorating. Corporal punishment
was still available to the Head and his
Deputies but, to the relief of Simeon,
forbidden to other teachers. A
minority of macho ‘old guard’ staff
regularly applied a violent fist to
quickly correct any irritation such as
casual insolence. This type of
transgression having reached the ears of
senior management usually resulted in a
gentle reprimand and advice along the
lines of - ‘Don’t get me wrong, I know
Bobbie and his scumbags can infuriate, but
just go easy. Stand back. It’s
not worth it.’
Detention after school was used with
increasing frequency. But it was a
formal detention of one hour from 4
to 5pm. To punish a pupil required
the completion of a detailed Incident
Report in triplicate to the Head of House
who would send a letter to the parents.
Overwhelmed with work and stress, most
staff already bogged down by red tape
simply could not find the energy and time
to cope with ever mounting bureaucracy.
Some hard cases (like Bobbie) would make
sure the letter never reached his parents
anyway; or he might simply refuse to
attend the detention. In the mid
1980s in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain, to Simeon
and many of his beleaguered colleagues, it
just felt like the world was falling
Some months after that extraordinary
impromptu detention, which magically
morphed into a constructive conference of
equals, a history master was whispering
with the terrible trio in the library.
Seated in front of written notes and open
books, it was intended to look like a
teacher helping his pupils.
Actually, it was Simeon enjoying a casual
chat with Ronnie, Bobbie and Freddie when
the subject of school punishments came up.
‘Do you remember that time, big bust up,
when I ordered you lot to stay behind in
class?’ asked Simeon.
‘We’ll never forget it!’ responded chief
spokesman Ronnie, slightly abashed.
The others displayed a degree of
embarrassment and a short silence forced
Freddie into respectful speech.
‘We’re sorry we upset you, sir.
‘Yeah,’ mumbled Bobbie.
‘It’s just that ... well ... I wondered
... well, you, all three of you, could
have just refused to stay behind.
You’re known for refusing detention.
Not to mention disrupting other
detentions. You could have simply
walked out of the room. Why
didn’t you walk out?’
They looked at each other for a lead.
‘I expect ...’ started Ronnie.
‘I think it’s because we liked you, sir,’
‘Liked me! After I’d pitched into
‘Well, we knew you’d got a temper ... I
mean ...’ stumbled Freddie.
‘Tantrums don’t amount to good discipline
or good teaching, lads. I wish I
was a good teacher. Afraid I’m
‘I’ll tell you what, sir,’ said Ronnie,
‘We were sorry to have upset you so much.
We felt bad about it. That’s what it
This thoughtful exchange with boys from a
rough, chaotic, dysfunctional troubled
background was very affecting to Simeon.
He thought on it deeply. So, all
along, could it have been that the trio
unconsciously engineered this
extraordinary reconciliation? For
this stern master, it was a sort of
Damascene moment, one shining flash, the
most significant instant in his whole
teaching career. The mask of Mr
Chips had slipped and revealed a useless
stressed-out Mr Hogg who had suddenly
stepped back and was staggered by the
futility of his position.
Fast forward ten years and see an older
broken Hogg in a small classroom,
half-heartedly presiding over untidy notes
spread out on a table before him pondering
that special conversation with Freddie,
Bobbie and Ronnie. By coincidence,
suddenly, there was Ronnie!
It was Ronnie, large as life,
mischievously grinning at Mr Hogg through
the glass door. Immediately Simeon
summed up the situation. The
disrupter had been ejected from his
classroom. He was bored, wandering
around the block heading for even more
self-inflicted aggravation, not only on
himself, but staff who already suffered
enough from that terrible trio.
‘Get in here, Ronnie!’ barked Simeon.
‘Kicked out of class again?’
‘Well … not really, sir …’ ventured the
boy eternally in denial attempting to
justify his conduct. Recalling good
relations and the need to build on past
success, he smiled and put the lad at
‘Never mind. I’ll take
responsibility if questions are asked.
Sit yourself down. I could use a bit
of company. Nobody seems to notice
me these days. How are you?’
‘Not too bad, sir,’ beamed Ronnie,
settling into his chair, clearly delighted
to be back with his former teacher.
‘Not teaching this period, sir?’
‘I’ve been poorly, Ronnie. Took bad,
as we say in Derbyshire. Not
physically, it’s ... well ... a mental
breakdown. You lot have finally
driven me crackers,’ smiled Simeon
enjoying his own joke. ‘Seriously,
I’ve been in this room for months
scribbling away at this stuff. The
idea is to get me back into the classroom
eventually, get me better - something like
‘I’m sorry ...’ said Ronnie, concerned,
sincere, inadequately trying to express
himself. Writing stories?’ asked the
visitor after noticing an untidy spread of
‘Supposed to be lesson plans, but I’m
thinking it’s all a waste of time.
Perhaps I should be writing my life
‘That would be interesting!
When you come back you could read it to
us. We’d enjoy that, sir.’
Simeon smiled a sad smile.
‘I don’t think I’ll be back here teaching
you, Ronnie.’ Briefly, in simple
terms, he explained his breakdown and
problems of memory. ‘But enough
about me. Tell me your news.’
‘Got meself stabbed, sir!’
‘Stabbed! You mean …’
At this, the victim jumped to his feet,
lowered his trousers and jerked up his
shirt proudly revealing his milky midriff
and several inches of ugly scar just above
an adolescent waist. This was
serious violence, and recent violence at
‘My God! Cover yourself, lad,
quickly. Anybody walking by will
wonder what’s going on in here. How
did that happen?
‘Oh Ronnie! Will you ever learn?
It must have been a hospital job.’
Recalling the brutal reality of this boy’s
chaotic life, Simeon was alarmed.
‘Were your mates involved? Did they
The reference to Bobbie and Freddie seemed
to discomfort Ronnie who slumped back down
in his seat.
‘I can’t remember.’
‘You can’t remember! But you must
‘I was in hospital a long time. Do
you still live in Clowne?’
Now it was Simeon’s turn to be
discomforted. The abrupt change of
subject turned his mind to recurring
anxiety. Had he locked the door when
he left his house that morning? Why
was he plagued with visions of piles of
unopened letters and a neglected overgrown
Another unwelcome thought intruded: the
cycling club which was strangled at birth
by a deputy head. He was alarmed on
hearing about an impromptu visit to Mr
Hogg from three enthusiastic cyclists.
Ronnie, Bobbie and Freddie turned up at
his door urging the formation of a school
cycling club run by their favourite
teacher. Affording them hospitality
demanded by basic courtesy, Simeon,
serving up three mugs of tea in his living
room, knew he was on dodgy ground – and
told them so. But exuberant innocent
youth could see no such subtle obstacles.
The boys wanted to experience the
mysterious nooks and crannies of the High
Peak Simeon often mentioned when
describing his weekend excursions.
Bobbie and his cheerful claque often
greeted Simeon with friendly banter
regarding his sexy McEnroe shorts when
cycling into school.
‘Ope ya didn’t mind that bit o’ cheek this
morning, sir? It’s just us being a
‘Don’t worry, Bobbie. I know the
difference between genuine disrespectful
abuse and a compliment - albeit
inappropriate. Anyway, a bloke my
age should be grateful his legs get
noticed. Don’t wolf-whistle; that’s
all I ask. It might catch on and be
Did Simeon cycle to school this morning?
If so, did he still park his bike in the
history book cupboard, the usual place?
He had no memory of how he had arrived at
school, no memory of parking his car.
Thoughts went back to the deputy head
‘Try to see it from my point of view,
Simeon. You, a single man living
alone, were entertaining male pupils in
your home. Of course, I’ve
full confidence in your professional
conduct. That goes without saying.
Fortunately the three lads concerned,
carefully questioned, spoken to
separately, breathed nothing of any
impropriety. It’s not me; you have
to see how others might interpret
this visit to your home.
‘You must also consider the reputation of
these rogues. They begged me
to permit this cycling club. Of
course, it’s out of the question.
They were dismayed when I pointed out the
need for an extra member of staff - even
if I were to tolerate such a club.
It’s nice to be popular but, believe me,
Simeon, unless this business is squashed
at the outset, you are on the road to
disaster! I’ve made it clear that no
further visits will be sanctioned and
expect to hear no more on the subject.’
Simeon was annoyed. He had no
intention of agreeing to such a venture
and hoped the surprise visit would have
passed without comment. Senior
management had seized an opportunity to
indulge in unacceptable, unchallenged
homophobia. Walking down the
corridor, minutes after the reprimand, too
late, he rehearsed a defence of several
sound bites. Simeon’s weekends were
precious. His time was valuable.
Solitary cycling in the Derbyshire hills
was restorative, his way of recharging the
batteries, combating stress and building
up fresh reserves for Monday morning.
The boys might have been congenial
company, but the main purpose was fresh
air and exercise away from school
and responsibility. Cycling in a
group also constituted an unacceptable
risk of collision with possible grievous
results. All these points Simeon
should have made in his defence.
Under the threat of bigotry, prejudice and
ignorance, he was paralysed into an abject
During these lengthy cogitations, Simeon
realised he had not answered Ronnie’s
‘Yes, I still live in Clowne.’
‘Good! I’ll bike over and see you
like last time.’
‘I’d enjoy that but … your last visit gave
me a bit of bother with the bosses.’
‘It’ll not matter now, sir. Who’ll
Before he could respond, Simeon, with a
sudden rush of realisation, was
overwhelmed by the profound truth of that
statement. Who indeed would know?
He had been reduced to a nonperson, a
former teacher who simply did not matter
anymore. Then he noted the singular
‘I’ll bike over’. The other boys
were not mentioned. Ronnie
‘I don’t see much of them these days.’
‘That’s a shame. Friends are
important. You, of all people, need
as much social support as possible.’
‘Yes. I get lonely since the
‘They came to visit you – I hope!’
‘I saw Bobbie and Freddie there once, just
once, but they couldn’t find me. I
was too weak to call out. You
were there, sir! That meant a lot.
You were the only teacher who cared enough
to bother. But it was the same
thing; you looked straight at me, but
didn’t recognise me. I must have
been a bit of a mess with tubes and stuff
Simeon had no memory of such a visit.
In truth, he was experiencing his own
difficulties at about the same time, but
did not have the heart to disillusion
Ronnie. Possibly he was reliant on
that mistaken belief.
‘Anyway,’ thought Simeon, ‘for all I know,
I might well have shot off to that
hospital on hearing such dreadful news.
If only my memory were not so bad.
I’m sick of this perpetual fog.’
Ronnie came back to the subject of his
teacher’s lesson plans which inspired such
‘Forget this stuff, sir. If nobody’s
checking up on you, what the hell!
Write about something we’d all like to
know about. Best part of your
lessons was when it became personal, when
you spoke about yourself. That’s
when it was real! Sometimes you used
examples, your mates, that American bloke
Walter who was brainwashed by the
Too true! That was real all
right! It triggered another painful
memory. A girl in the class, who was
a Jehovah's Witness, complained with the
result that Simeon suffered another
reprimand from the Deputy Head.
But there was something odd about this
teenager. Teacher studied pupil.
Something was wrong. After a few
seconds, he realised it was his speech.
It was a touch too sophisticated for
Ronnie? He was never so articulate.
Yet it was Ronnie. As he
stared, momentarily Ronnie aged – and then
returned to normal. Was Simeon going
‘Something wrong, sir?’
‘Nothing really. It’s just that …
look … my memory’s horribly vague.
It is correct, isn’t it; I was
teaching you, Bobbie and Freddie last
summer? Or was it the year before?
I can’t seem to reconcile the good times
with you chaps and those appalling
incidents with the sixth formers which,
well let’s face it, drove me out of
‘Driven out!’ Ronnie was genuinely
horrified. ‘It’s news to me, and I’m
sorry to hear it.’
Simeon took a deep breath. He made a
decision. It was motivated by
increasing loneliness to the point of
desperation. Emboldened by the boy’s
maturity, his compassion and heartfelt
empathy – for the first time ever, Mr Hogg
would admit his homosexuality to a pupil.
‘We all knew that, sir,’ said Ronnie in
some sadness and a wan smile. ‘But
it made no difference,’ he added cheerily.
‘You’ve always been well respected and
well liked.’ In a sudden change, he
spoke softly in low menacing tones, more
to his hand as it became a fist.
‘Course, we ‘ad ta give a bit of strong
advice to one or two youths, just now and
again, you know, when they forgot their
manners. Those sorts, well, they
learn quick – never said it again.’
Simeon looked at his bodyguard with mixed
feelings and chose his words carefully.
‘Yes. I’m fully aware of your
considerable influence in the school,’ he
said sardonically. ‘Much better to
have you, Bobbie and Freddie with me
rather than against me. It made life
easier. It was a brief golden age in
‘You should have told us about them yobs.
Why didn’t you? We could have sorted
it in seconds.’
Simeon explained. He detailed gay
hate at the Valley Comprehensive School in
Worksop which, effectively, terminated a
17 year teaching career.
‘You see, Ronnie, my private life had to
remain very private. I was leading a
double life, but some pupils began to
speculate on my sexuality. They
turned me into an object of fun. In
the last months there were humiliating
hurtful episodes. I might have
survived a few, but there were too many.
A steady torturous drip destroyed my
credibility and confidence. At the
edge of a breakdown, a shell of my former
self, there came a point when my position
was impossible. I couldn’t do my job
properly. These appalling attacks
were never taken seriously by senior
management. One culprit was told –
“That was a silly thing to say.” A
colleague commented on continuing misery,
my appearance and exhaustion. She
advised a few days off. At the end
of that day, I walked out of that
classroom determined never to come back.
‘All those years, I did my job quietly.
I kept my head down, kept my private life
very private and did nothing for the gay
cause.’ Ronnie looked a question.
‘Gay cause?’ Simeon tried to
‘Some brave folks in far off cities were
sticking up for me and others like me.
Homosexual teachers are isolated,
terrified of being exposed as queer,
frightened of being humiliated by ignorant
pupils and colleagues especially in
Worksop, a deeply conservative colliery
‘I don’t remember anything like that,’
said Ronnie in puzzlement.
‘No,’ replied Simeon slowly. ‘Look
here, Ronnie, we have both endured trauma
and both have memory problems. Let
me ask you a simple question: can you
remember who the Prime Minister was when I
taught you and your mates?’
‘Mrs Thatcher indeed! She was the PM
in the 1980s. What year are we in
‘I’m not sure,’ said Ronnie - after a
‘I’d say 1995 - sometime in October - but
I’m not sure.’
During a difficult silence, they looked at
each other for some moments. Simeon
broke the silence.
‘I might be having difficulties, but I’ve
not lost my critical faculties. You
see what it means? If I’m right
about the current year, I’m in
conversation with a man in his early
twenties! I thought you’d been
kicked out of a class? Is that
right? Or have you just walked along
Valley Road and into the building?’
Ronnie, mystified, was stunned into
silence. In that silence, Simeon
cast his mind over the Thatcher years.
He grieved for people who suffered under
her appalling 1988 law, Section 28.
It was the first anti-gay legislation
passed in a 100 years! Like living
in a police state; it prevented any
positive mention of homosexuality in
schools, banned Local Authorities from
publishing material expressing the
acceptability of homosexuality as a
‘pretended family relationship’. In
other words, it told gay children, lesbian
and gay parents – ‘you are not a real
family, you are unacceptable, you are
At the 1987 Conservative party conference,
she mocked people who defended the right
to be gay in her keynote speech,
insinuating there was no such right.
During her rule, there was an explosion of
queer bashing and murder, whilst gay men
were demonised for the AIDS pandemic.
In that year, after a bout of flu, Simeon
returned to his classroom and was greeted
by a scrawl on the board – ‘Hogg’s got
AIDS.’ Simeon felt under siege.
It was a dreadful time. The
Conservative government’s ‘family values’
and ‘Victorian values’ campaigns whipped
up hysterical levels of homophobia aided
by the moral panic over AIDS which was
dubbed the ‘gay plague’.
Ronnie attempted to answer Simeon’s
‘You thought I’d been kicked out of
class, so that’s what I thought.
I’m not sure which class it was … I
might have walked in from the street?’
‘Aren’t we a pair of crocks?’ replied
Simeon with a wry smile.
The bell sounded for the lunch hour.
Immediately corridors filled up with
youthful humanity pressing and crushing to
exit the building. Ronnie turned
round to see if he recognised anybody.
Columns crowded towards the main exit on
the left colliding with pupils emerging
from classrooms down the corridors on the
right. At times the jam came to a
halt. Nobody took notice of the two
men observing from that small classroom.
And it was two men. Ronnie was no
longer a boy. As if by mutual
consent, both were reluctant to pursue
further the taboo subject of mental
problems. They had pushed the
analysis as far as they dared. In
silence, teacher and pupil assessed areas
of agreement and gave voice to a safe way
forward. Simeon, the more
articulate, spoke first.
‘I’m delighted to have been reunited with
you today, Ronnie. We’ve agreed I’m
wasting my time with lesson plans and
should write an autobiography. It’ll
be a lot easier to do that if I can tell
it to somebody. Will you come again
and discuss it with me?’
‘Of course! I like your company and,
let’s face it; I’ve nothing else to do.’
‘If you can ask the occasional question,
make the odd comment from time to time,
it’ll be really helpful. Don’t be
reluctant to criticise. I’m on my
own in this eternal fog and need feedback.
Steer me in the right direction if you
feel the need.’
It seemed like the present spate of
conversation had been exhausted.
Warm goodbyes were exchanged in the
comfortable knowledge that a framework for
future meetings had been established.
Ronnie was excited by new responsibility
which gave his life new meaning.
With youthful enthusiasm, he declared his
intention to return the following morning.
Even so, he was reluctant to leave the
room. Slowly, very slowly, he walked
to the top of the stairs and descended at
a snail’s pace.
Simeon became painfully conscious of their
shared loneliness as an excessive
melancholy descended on him. Had he
dismissed Ronnie too soon? Where
would he go? Would he know where
to go? Would he remember the
arrangement? Would he remember
anything? Yet again a great
emptiness intruded together with a fear of
that taboo subject – don’t question, don’t
try to analyse, don’t dig too deep.
The truth might be too dreadful.
Winter of Discontent
The following morning, sunny and bright,
was a complete contrast. At the
first sight of Ronnie, Simeon jumped out
of his seat and very nearly hugged him.
A firm hand shake was probably the first
time he had ever touched any pupil.
As a gay man, he had to be especially
careful with boys. Ronnie’s face,
wreathed in smiles, displayed equal
‘I must warn you that these meetings will
uncover personal details which might
embarrass you. Hope you can cope
‘No problem,’ replied Ronnie, ‘I’ve
knocked about a bit meself. I’ve had
my bit of fun.’
‘I wasn’t particularly thinking of sex,
although, I expect that will come into any
homosexual biography. No, I was
thinking of the sensitive issue of our
shared memory problem. For example,
I can tell you that I’m haunted by a
horror of my pigeon hole.’
Simeon explained the communication system
of pigeon holes, more than one hundred
small mail boxes located on the wall in
the main office block next to the
headmaster’s office. Staff were
expected to check them every morning.
Vaguely, he recollected going there a few
times on his return after the long
absence. Was it embarrassment?
Or his increasing tendency to
reclusiveness which accounted for a fear
of going near the main office? Mr
Hogg’s pigeon hole might well be
overflowing with dozens of uncollected
notes and general staff instructions.
Somewhat hesitantly, Ronnie offered to
walk down there and pick up his mail.
‘No! Thank you, it’s ... err ... a
kind thought, but I don’t want to know
what’s in that bloody box. Anyway,
if seen, you’d likely get into trouble.
And another thing, what do I want? I
want out. I should have got the hell
out when I was really bad, when
they bullied me into those counselling
sessions. Do you know, Ronnie: as
time goes by, I remember less and less
about those meetings.’
‘Fine,’ said the other, eager to diffuse
increasing anxiety. ‘They’ve
probably forgotten you anyway.’
A short exchange of ideas established
Ronnie’s preference to keep the
biographical focus on Simeon’s teaching
‘When did you start?’
‘I’d lived in America for 13 years,
qualified out there and just wanted to
settle in England teaching English history
in a cosy school,’ concluded the
master with a grim cynical snigger.
‘I was looking for a quiet, comfortable
life - some hope!’
‘Why didn’t that happen?’
‘Several reasons. Firstly, Worksop
is a provincial colliery town where every
‘proper’ bloke is expected to fit in.
You had to be keen on football, swill beer
with the lads in the pub and, most
important of all, be able to fancy a lass.
I always thought I’d be safe in a
community of educated schoolmasters who’d
respect a gentleman’s privacy. The
British have a reputation for accepting
the status of a bachelor. Intrusive
questions are considered bad form; not so
at this school. It simply
wasn’t possible to keep up a double life.
I was in for a rude awakening!
‘Double life! It’s a joke.
When you think about it, I had all on to
lead a single life.’
Simeon never invented girlfriends to
satisfy his curious colleagues. As
far as possible, he was honest about his
personal life, waxing eloquent about his
love of cycling and walking in the
Derbyshire hills and dales. Tea
shops were sought out and, where possible,
public houses avoided. Occasionally
he stayed at youth hostels, more often at
a Bed and Breakfast. It was in his
nature to retire early and rise early -
after being assured his accommodation
would be quiet.
Homosexuality had turned him into a
recluse. Indeed, Simeon’s austere
lifestyle of healthy abstinence hindered
his efforts in meeting other homosexuals.
The Turkish bath was the best way.
Other venues such as notorious lascivious
lavatories or certain infamous woodland
walks were, to his cost, found to be much
Ronnie was intrigued about how a gay made
contact with another gay.
‘Catching a kindred eye,’ said Simeon,
philosophically recalling a line from a
half forgotten poem. ‘I’ve spent my
whole life doing just that. Pretty
boys in the street or even here at this
school. Briefly you snatch a quick
look at a handsome face and instantly look
away - for safety. I ask myself, is
it lust? Will I be satisfied with a
simple kiss, a fumble up an alley or a
minute in the steam room? Or do I
want something more, something more
edifying - a relationship?’
‘I expect most men like you would want
that, to actually get to know and love
another man,’ said Ronnie.
‘Yes,’ sighed Simeon, in a faraway voice.
His mind went back to 1966 in a gay sauna.
A slight turn to the right revealed the
profile of a light skinned young Negro
who, after a few seconds, turned a
beautiful full face. It was an
appraisal, a close-up to confirm his
selection for the evening. Here was
a boy of stunning good looks fixing Simeon
with his considerable power. Here
was a chicken-hawk who was accustomed to
hunting the chickens of Detroit City.
Here was a boy who was accustomed to
getting exactly what he wanted - and he
wanted Simeon. In those few magical
moments, Derbyshire eyes scrutinised
Detroit eyes. Both pairs were full
of wonder, full of desire. Under
pressure of enchantment, each countenance
melted, slightly, very slightly into a
half smile. Simeon was drawn into an
alluring face. He supposed that this
strapping lad with an Adonis body was
about his own age. It was a face of
softened Negroid features: not a wide
nose: lips not thick, yet temptingly full:
coal-black hair, not exactly frizzy, yet
with short tight curls, suggesting African
ancestry. And big round eyes - yes -
beautiful brown eyes, firm of purpose,
holding, bayoneting their prey.
Later that evening they were walking the
streets of Detroit when a turn took them
into a narrow street. He stopped.
Simeon stopped. They looked at each
other - enjoyed the look when, suddenly,
roughly, the Adonis pushed him into a
recess, up against a dilapidated doorway
and, with arms outstretched leaning on the
door, he created a small area of
confinement. Simeon was in a trap.
It might have been a mugging. They
looked at each other. Easy, sweet
and slow, the hard strong youth breathed
out a few words.
‘You think ... I'll lock you in a cage
like a little bird, all for myself?’
He smiled, leaned closer and kissed his
captive, oh - so - very - gently.
‘And, if I opened the cage door ... would
you fly away? Would you?’
Simeon was frozen mute by the greatest
sexual power he had ever encountered.
It was a thrilling combination of menace
and magic. He could not run, had no
desire to run. Seizing the
initiative, with supreme poise and
self-assurance, the ruffian continued to
weave his enchantment.
‘I don't think so. Know why?
Because I can get inside you.
I can eat you up. I can drain you
... and, yes, boy, you'll beg me for it;
you'll love me for it. Does my boy
love me? Does he?’
As if with a broken spirit, Simeon heard
himself whisper an affirmative as the
lover dropped his arms, descended to a
squat, fumbled and concluded his magic
spell with physical expression and
physical expertise, ending in a long,
slow, paroxysm of acute pleasure which the
English prisoner would remember all his
‘Hello!’ said Ronnie, trying to be
cheerful but noticing the abstraction and
sudden moist eyes. ‘You’re miles
away! Come back. Hope I didn’t
Quickly Simeon rallied and returned to the
task at hand. He was pleased the
biography was disciplined and focused on
the period of 1978 to the present day.
He took a breath and lunged into a start.
More correctly, they made a start.
Simeon knew he had suffered a catastrophic
collapse of confidence. Ronnie’s
encouragement was essential. It
would be a conversation. One would
occasionally chip in whilst the other made
rough notes to write up later. The
reality was two people, isolated by recent
trauma, needing the warmth and comfort of
Simeon couldn’t recall much about his
first months of the 1978 autumn term, but
had vivid unpleasant memories of the
dreadful ‘winter of discontent’ in early
‘Is it all going to be misery,
sir?’ complained Ronnie.
‘Absolutely not! Despite many
difficulties in a life dodging daily
assault, the slings and arrows of constant
bigotry, prejudice and ignorance, there’s
a lot of fun and laughter in the gay
world. The very nature of hardship
compensates with comedy acted out by some
bizarre people. As we go along,
you’ll meet my circus of curious
characters. It was the same in
Detroit. Black people could be most
amusing. By the way, do you know my
‘Simeon,’ said Ronnie, slightly
embarrassed as if he had uttered a taboo
‘It’s just that it’s beginning to feel a
touch silly, a bit pretentious being
addressed as a master. Those days
are long gone. We’re now equal.
‘Okay, Simeon,’ replied the former pupil
with a cheeky grin. They both
grinned like two naughty boys.
Ronnie remembered with some pleasure the
chaos and disruption caused by the period
coined ‘winter of discontent’. It
was so cold the school occasionally closed
due to a shortage of fuel. There
were paralysing strikes causing Worksop’s
dustbins to overflow, its streets piled up
with rubbish. Cemetery workers
refused to bury the dead. Food and
petrol supplies were disrupted.
Worst of all, Simeon recalled the stress
and danger driving out of the pit village
of Clowne, a scruffy coal blackened
community exposed to the elements perched
up high on a Derbyshire ridge. His
fragile little Mini car precariously
descended down an icy main road towards
Worksop several hundred feet lower in
Nottinghamshire. Surfaces needed
grit but militant road workers were on
strike and his tyres, fully locked, simply
skated down and rubbed across the
kerbstones. He hated being late, but
often was during that dreadful winter.
Fear of a sharp tongued unsympathetic
dictatorial headmaster locked into a 1950s
mindset caused intolerable anxiety.
School closures, of which there were
several, were a godsend. Some of
this precious stolen time was due to lack
of fuel. Striking ancillary staff
gifted a few extra days for this
beleaguered teacher to catch his breath.
It was possible to manage without cleaners
and dinner ladies, but caretakers, with
boiler house expertise and multiple keys
to navigate the buildings ... Well, they
There was mounting discontent with a dying
Labour Government. An insensitive
comment from Prime Minister James
Callaghan infuriated a freezing
strike-bound Britain shuddering to a halt.
Returning happy and tanned from a tropical
Caribbean summit, he exclaimed, ‘Crisis!
What crisis?’ Little did Simeon know
these blunders would pave the way for 13
years of a right-wing homophobic Thatcher
Government taking gay people back to an
age of prejudice and bigotry, even worse
than their current malaise.
During Margaret Thatcher’s time, the few
enlightened teachers were afraid to
challenge homophobic bullying.
Indeed, the word homophobia had yet to be
coined. From that time, up to and
into the 21st century, 41 % of gay pupils
were beaten up and were six times more
likely to commit suicide. From 1978
to 1995, at the Valley Comprehensive
School in Worksop, fearing exposure and
humiliation, Simeon Hogg kept his head
down, said nothing about his private life
and tried to be invisible. It didn't
work. A series of painful incidents,
homophobic abuse from some pupils together
with the indifference of senior management
effectively terminated a teaching career.
The repeal of Section 28 in 2003 came too
late for 20th century teachers who shared
same-sex attraction. Such was the
Thatcher legacy. Her eventual
passing in 2013 provoked an outpouring of
adulation from some and scenes of ecstatic
dancing in the street from others.
Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead from the
Wizard of Oz shot to the top of the
pop charts in the days prior to her
But Britain was not the only country to
inflict retrospective punishment on its
gay population. Simeon’s gloom
increased when the Shah of Iran was
deposed by violent gangs of religious
fanatics followed by the dread arrival of
Ayatollah Khomeini who plunged that nation
back to a medieval darkness. This
evil, grim-faced pitiless old man
precipitated a gay hating witch-hunt of
executions devouring untold numbers of
Simeon was horrified by distressing
reports of Iranian gay men who suffered
their anuses being medically sewn up
closed by doctors. The inevitable
result was a slow agonising death.
When it came to light that a compassionate
surgeon cut through the stitches to help
some of these victims of rabid homophobia,
that brave doctor was promptly arrested by
the (extra judicial) Religious Police and
thrown into jail.
A combination of Thatcher, Khomeini and
the forthcoming AIDS epidemic released an
unprecedented wave of terror driving the
gay community back to an abyss of bible
In spite of this decade of stygian gloom,
gay men like Simeon were getting on with
their lives. Religious fanatics need
to recruit new members whereas those who
share same-sex attraction are born at a
rate of one in ten if bisexuals are
included. Most of them are able to
hide within the heterosexual majority by
marrying and / or repressing their natural
urges. Many years later, a
sympathetic policeman said -
‘Let’s face it, Simeon. You were
A shining light in such bleak times was
the entertaining Mr Toad, an old friend
from the 1960s. One weekend in early
1979, Simeon was invited to meet Toad’s
notorious mother, known in gay circles as
Mother Ghoul, nicknamed after her home
town, the busy Humberside port of Goole,
50 miles inland from the North Sea.
‘Good!’ said Ronnie, ‘This is getting
‘Not so good for me. It was a big
mistake. I’d been warned she was a
harridan of the first order. A
monster of a woman!’
She was a hideous version of her ugly son.
The first sight of Toad some 14 years
before was a never-to-be-forgotten
experience. Yes, certainly a toad.
His pupils had christened him well.
He looked like a toad. His exuberant
bulging eyes, full of ardour, were set
wide over a tight mouth which seemed more
like a long crack. ‘Crack in a pie’
was a regular comment. He inspired
something of the repulsion felt at the
nearness of a reptile. Like Kenneth
Graham's Mr Toad, he was comical, eager,
impatient and entirely puffed up with his
own importance. Catching sight of a
teenage chicken, the little creature ran,
actually ran up to Simeon who, trying to
look innocent, sauntering around a certain
public park, was forced to retreat several
After a few minutes conversation, Toad
registered a childlike delight when the
newcomer found this funny little man
interesting. Years later, Simeon had
grown fond of his toad who was utterly
repulsive and, at the same time, utterly
Toad loved to laugh. He was a funny
man and could show surprising erudition in
quoting the classics with a homoerotic
subtext. Boasts about his sexual
conquests included ‘Where the bee
sucks, there suck I’ and ‘There’s
corn in Egypt’.
Mischievously, Simeon amused Ronnie with
an account of an outrageous episode in a
gay bathhouse one busy afternoon.
Toad was crowing about his tremendous
success in the orgy room. Having
completely drained himself dry after
servicing so many willing bottoms, oral
activity was the only possible option
left. Keen customers were queuing up
for quick relief from his talented
muscular tongue of exquisite skill and the
thousand thrills delivered by dexterous
digits delighting dozens of onlookers
anxiously awaiting their turn.
‘I sucked, slurped and slobbered,’ bragged
the reptile, ‘completely satiated with a
tummy filling with spunk. How does
that song go? Yummy, yummy, yummy
I’ve got love in my tummy ...’
The audience loved it as much as the
participants, but repetition was getting a
little tedious when, not wishing to
disappoint his adoring voyeurs, he was
inspired by a scene from a comedy film
seen a few years before in 1960 -
Bottoms Up staring Jimmy Edwards as
the corrupt incompetent Headmaster of a
failing school with abysmal standards.
Entirely consistent with the standards of
the day, harsh discipline was brutally
imposed by thrashing a boy’s bottom with a
bamboo cane. Toad was titillated
seeing Edwards (a gay man himself)
wantonly striking the buttocks of five
boys selected for a public punishment in
front of the whole school. Just
before the beating, sadistically, Edwards
carefully aligned each backside to make a
neat row to improve the presentation.
With this arousing memory in mind, Toad
carefully picked out five alluring bums to
be presented to his crude crowd in the
orgy room. With instructions, he
arranged them into a neat, straight line.
‘Number two in a bit. Number four
out a tad ... Yes that is perfect!
Ready gentlemen? I’ll now begin.’
Unlike the Headmaster, Toad was inflicting
exquisite pleasure by rimming each anus in
turn with his powerful prurient tongue.
After a few minutes, his face buried in
buttocks, all, moaning in ecstasy, were
brought to a delicious milky conclusion
assisted by clever toadal fondling
‘That is vile!’ complained Ronnie who had
never before heard of this particular
‘Agreed. I was shocked when it was
first done to me by Ahmed my first love in
Detroit. I could hardly believe it
was happening at all. It is extreme
and can be dangerous with a risk of
contracting hepatitis. Come to think
of it, Toad was put out of action for
several months in the 1970s with that
disease. But, Ronnie - aren’t we
missing the point?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Toad boasted his sexual prowess to me in
1965. It was not until sometime in
the 1980s that I actually saw Bottoms
Up on TV and realised that his
bragging was inspired by that 1960 film.’
‘So he was lying!’
‘Possibly, the bit about neatly lining
them up. I would use a different
word. I would call it fantasising.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Toad
rimming in the Brighton bushes in front of
an audience. It does happen.
You, Ronnie, are horrified by your
perception of a disgusting performance.
I can understand that.
‘I too am sickened and nauseated - but not
from an act which gives pleasure - from an
act which inflicts pain with impunity.
In this very school, the Valley
Comprehensive, it was normal practise to
punish boys by beating them on their
bottom or hand with a stick. You
‘My point is this - it was considered OK,
quite legal, to impose discipline by
inflicting physical suffering on little
children and even teenagers. On the
other hand, if those teenagers or grown
men expressed affection by fondling,
fucking, sucking or rimming - they
were breaking the law! If caught,
they would be thrown into prison.
Once in that confinement, it was
considered quite reasonable to stand back
and let other ‘disgusted’ inmates beat the
shit out of them. Reduced to
emotional wrecks, many self harmed.
Some committed suicide and some were
Ronnie was staggered by his former
teacher’s descent into the use of foul
language. His countenance clearly
showed sufficient disapproval to elicit an
apology - which was given fulsomely.
‘Sorry, Ronnie. You are quite right
to expect better of me, but I feel very
strongly about this issue,’
After a slightly tense interval, the
conversation returned to Mr Toad, a deeply
damaged man after a lifetime hiding his
true nature from the heterosexual
majority. Tragically he was also
reviled by many of his own kind.
Trendy young men, familiar with the gay
scene, viewed him as a piece of slime
creeping around the dance floor - but to
Simeon, oh no, his funny little friend was
more than that - much more.
In the years of their friendship, Toad
became quintessentially the very essence
of old-fashioned Englishness in its purest
form. He was as salty and as vulgar
as a seaside postcard. The best
times in Simeon's life would not be in the
company of intolerant chickens. No.
The best times would be spent with his old
friend being tossed and blown about on the
North Sea on board the Yorkshire Belle.
Toad was quaint. Toad was funny.
Toad was a bundle of fun, a barrel of
laughs. He represented an amusing
character in caricature - perhaps one of
the last of the type. He did not
know it at the time, but for Simeon, these
precious hilarious moments were the
beginning of a lifelong friendship with Mr
Toad, nay, a love affair; a love affair
which would last for decades.
Toad was one thing, Mother Ghoul was
something else! Weekends away from
the daily slog of teaching were precious,
especially in the spring after the winter
of discontent. One Friday after
school, Simeon heard the approach of an
ugly little ‘toadmobile’ announced by a
constant and urgent - toot toot, toot
toot. He liked his tooter, all part
of an immature pushy personality
pugnaciously huddled over the wheel.
It was a hideous slug-shaped foreign
contraption which suited the slug-shaped
Eventually they reached the best part of
an otherwise grimy town. Mother and
son lived in a substantial Victorian town
house overlooking the narrow town park
bordered by the River Ouse. This
pretty well-kept park dramatically
terminated in a black confusion of cranes
- massive long arms, beams, cables and
cruel looking hooks blending into the
darkness of a cold winter evening.
The invitation from the son was given
gladly, but, unbeknown to the guest, had
to be wrenched from mother who gave Simeon
a reception as icy as the inky blackness
from whence they came. When he
complained, Toad said:
‘Don’t take it personally. Mother
hates my gay friends.’
‘But I did take it personally,’ he
told Ronnie. ‘I’d heard of her
reputation but at least expected a modicum
of formal courtesy if not warmth.
Scowling in tantrum, she plonked down my
dinner in an ill lit ancient kitchen
grunting a half audible - “Folks can’t
afford to entertain at these prices.”’
‘I’d have told her to stuff it,’ said
Ronnie. ‘It’d choke me!’
‘It nearly did. This was Friday
evening. I was going to be in Goole
all Saturday until Sunday evening when he
would drive me back home. I was
determined somehow to escape that
obnoxious woman. If necessary, I’d
get a bus or train back to Clowne that
‘Did you manage it?’
‘No I didn’t. I was trapped and had
to sleep in the maid’s accommodation in
the attic area.’
The one time maid had escaped her
miserable servitude in the 1950s when
Father Ghoul, a bank manager, suddenly
died. Mother Ghoul decided she would
pocket the miserly £4 per week and sacked
her wretched little servant who had
suffered abuse from mother and son for the
previous two or three decades.
The next morning, brilliant sunshine
illuminating a hard frost, was a welcome
contrast to the lowering Dickensian
atmosphere within that soot blackened
‘Thank you for that nice breakfast,
mother. I’ll take Simeon on a Grand
Tour of Goole starting with our park.’
She received this cheery toodle-oo with a
grimace and grudging grunt of disgust.
In a vain attempt to sweeten the old
battleaxe, Toad added - ‘Don’t trouble to
make any lunch, we’ll have a bite at the
pub and Simeon will pay for himself.’
‘Aye, see that he does,’ she snapped.
Yes - he fully intended to pay for himself
and, if possible, not to return to further
insults with the help of his trusty
rucksack. Toad was used to seeing
his friend clad with that familiar
accoutrement on his back and did not
notice the complete removal of all
personal items from the residence of
Mother Ghoul. Effectively, Simeon
had checked out.
A few steps from the front door, the neat
park presented itself with a well
preserved bandstand and several ornate
comfortable benches thawing under the
warming sun. The two friends
progressed through the park until an ivy
clad public lavatory came into view.
In sudden excitement, Toad broke into a
run. His little arms came up to
shoulder level, podgy hands gesticulated
with waggling fingers as he disappeared
into his favourite and conveniently
He was so candid. It was this
childlike honesty which always impressed
Simeon down the years. A total
contrast to the pretentious types he knew
in Derby and Nottingham. It was too
early. The cottage was empty but it
afforded an opportunity to boast of
wonderful days in which he sat next to
that wonderful glory hole in that
‘I’m never refused! Lorry driver
after lorry driver, van driver after van
driver, I can get real men in this
place. Quite adequate for my needs.
I'm not ashamed to admit I’m often here
with sandwiches and two flasks of tea.
You've to be here early before an old
queen gets in. They won’t budge once
they get established - so I beat them to
it!’ He giggled and gloated.
As they made further progress, the cranes
loomed larger and the park deteriorated
into a scrubby area of weeds and shrubs
fighting against the pollution of a place
which had worked for its living over the
previous 200 years. It was protected
from the treacherous tidal river by an
embankment nearly twice human height.
This levee, stretching many miles inland,
supported a footpath giving views on
swirling dark waters to the southeast and
the town of Goole to the northwest.
Toad mentioned several notable tragedies
of victims swallowed up by merciless mud
banks. Remorselessly, sluggishly,
the central murky current flowed on.
Suddenly, they were startled by screaming
birds swooping overhead.
‘They say seagulls are the tormented souls
of sailors long dead. I’ll introduce
you to a regular fixture in the tavern.
He can spin a few yarns about folklore and
legends of bygone Goole.’
‘An old seaman?’ suggested Simeon.
‘An educated chemist actually.
Kenneth the Chemist, he’s quite a
colourful character. Knowing your
inclination for ancient toothless types,
you might find an opportunity for quick
pleasure in the cellar.’
After negotiating a dreary muddle of
cranes and untidy cables, they emerged
into an intrigue of dismal warehouses and
dwellings, derelict in appearance, linked
by a tight knot of narrow cobbled lanes
suggesting a culture of criminality.
Simeon was seized with a curious mixture
of fear and fascination. Isolated in
a time warp, this bizarre little port
appealed to his fondness of the weird and
ugly. He had the same taste in men
which is why he was with Toad rather than
a beautiful young man. It was no
mystery. As a 12-year-old, he had
been sexually imprinted by a paedophile
known in a Derbyshire pit town as Granddad
to the boys at a Dickensian Church of
England school. Several powerful
pupils were regular visitors to his
primitive terraced home almost completely
smothered in ivy.
They walked past an inn which would not
have been out of place in a horror film.
A silent dark facade suggested closure for
the last 100 years. Despite his
aversion to alcohol, Simeon was pleased to
learn they would be eating in that old ale
house later. Equally as prominent as
cranes on the Goole skyline was a tall
slender spire, pointing to God, piercing a
freezing heavenly vault of pure blue.
In contrast to showing Ghouls (as toad
dubbed the citizens of Goole) the way to a
better world, the church itself had been
blackened by decades of soot and smoke.
Toad patiently followed his guest as he
mooched around sombre grave stones
perversely enjoying a sweet sadness in
this strange haunting town. He
perused names and epitaphs in a futile
attempt to glean some meaningful
understanding of the deceased. The
monuments only confirmed ignorance and
servile obedience to the bigotry and
stranglehold of religion.
A short walk took them into the main high
street where they enjoyed a pot of tea and
a hot teacake in a plain but clean and
popular cafe. It was so crowded, no
tables were available. Toad and his
chum stood uncertainly holding their
trays, scanning empty tables where they
might beg permission to share with others.
One table with four chairs occupied by two
men looked promising.
‘Excuse me,’ said Toad politely, ‘do you
mind if we sit here?’
‘We certainly do!’ came the alarming and
Toad’s reaction was a surprise. He
seemed not to notice this hurtful conduct
and immediately asked at another table
where two elderly women simply ignored the
request. Silence was interpreted as
consent and the little man plonked himself
down, ordering his chum to do likewise.
In a conversation later in that day,
Simeon learned that Goole was a close knit
community where almost everybody knew
everybody else - and everybody knew the
infamous Toad. The little man
avoided pain by living in denial of nasty
comments, pretending not to hear an
insult. An empathetic instinct,
common to most gay men, instructed Simeon
not to interrogate or remark on this
appallingly unkind incident. In this
way the two homosexuals were protecting
The two women speedily paid up and left
the cafe, leaving the two good friends
with their own table free to chat.
Simeon asked about Kenneth the Chemist.
A curious character in his late 70s made
him about as old as the century. His
well-known homosexuality had been cruelly
established in the public mind by the
tragic death of his 21-year-old lover
decades earlier. An innocent
friendship between two young men exploded
into scandal when the boy’s suicide note,
intended for Kenneth’s eyes only, was read
by his outraged devout Pentecostal
parents. So vehement were these
flames of shock and disapproval that the
secret of Kenneth’s degeneracy leaked out
of the family circle and became common
knowledge in the town.
‘With such a hostile population, how did
your friend manage to become the respected
chemist of Goole for over half a century?’
Toad explained. Kenneth was the only
son. There was no other option.
From boyhood he had been trained to carry
on in a trusted family business which had
served the needs of the old port since the
‘Pious heterosexuals are always prepared
to hold their noses and accept services
and skills from queers when needed.
They tolerate me, don’t they?’
Indeed they did. When Ghouls needed
an organist for their weddings and
funerals, they called on the talents of Mr
Toad who was not only a music specialist
in a good school, but also an acclaimed
church organist whose fame had spread many
miles beyond the small minded population
Further perambulations took them into the
afternoon through sombre deserted streets
but for an occasional sad figure of bent
back and uncertain foot. Vile alleys
lurked behind high wharves. Simeon
heard about slop shops and slut stops for
quickies in this appalling place.
Finally they trod across steps worn hollow
by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet.
Toad pushed aside a doddering loose-lipped
senility who was blocking the tavern
It still looked forbiddingly derelict, but
a creaky door which gave on to the hum of
cheery companionship within. They
were cold, so a large plate of hot food
was welcome. A central table
afforded views around assorted regulars,
an equal mix of gender and types.
‘Look at those rough looking women;
they’re known as Dock Fairies, prostitutes
for the comfort of these gorgeous randy
sailors. They also get comfort from
me - for free!’ added Toad
salaciously licking his lips. ‘It’s
true! Our crude cave is so black;
they’ll even accept pleasure from men they
can’t see at all! Such as that
ancient pile of rags sat by the fire.’
Simeon noted a shabby old man deeply
reposed in an arm chair carefully
observing other patrons. Everything
about him said - ‘this is my chair
next to my fire secure in my
pub’. His was a face, worn with time
and trouble, yet thoughtful and pleasant.
Intelligent calm eyes studied Toad and
chicken knowing full well that he was the
subject of their discussion.
‘You are looking at the famous Kenneth,’
‘I don’t understand!’ Simeon was
confused. ‘Goole, as you’ve made
clear, is populated by respectable small
minded moral bigots, yet they tolerate
prostitutes and homosexuals in an
orgiastic room in a public house.
How do they reconcile that situation?’
Toad talked his friend through that
conundrum. In the Goole code of
ethics, there was a distinction drawn
between honest red-blooded sailors in need
of quick heterosexual relief and filthy
perverts who, unfortunately, might sneak
in to assist in that process.
‘It’s grown up over the years,’ explained
Toad. ‘The dark room at the back is
for the girls where money is involved.
Downstairs they get it for nothing in a
cellar. Many seamen prefer a mouth
and not too fussy who it belongs to.
Sluts like me and Kenneth are highly
skilled in the fine art of extracting
semen from seamen. They know
what a good time is! They come
downstairs and often have to queue up - a
line of tasty tars waiting their turn.
Let me introduce you to Kenneth.’
They walked over to an old man who greeted
with half smile and brief comment.
‘Decided to slum it again, Toad?’
‘This is my friend,’ replied the
complacent reptile. Leaning over, a
lascivious whisper entered Kenneth’s ear.
‘Simeon likes your sort. You’ll be
able to have him.’
‘What makes you think that I want him?’
was the reply in a surprisingly cultured
accent assisted by hands with an
‘He’ll want you. He’s wanted
to meet the talented toothless old chemist
of Goole for several years.’
‘Old chemist indeed! I shall have to
see what Elizabeth Arden cosmetics can do
for me. Would your friend care to
At this point, Simeon understood that
Kenneth’s chemist days were long gone.
In retirement, he occupied a small suite
of rooms on the first floor making him the
sole resident apart from the landlady who
tended to his simple needs. Toad,
not invited to ascend, informed his
guest that he was honoured to be serviced
above, alone, rather than in the cellar
where others might be present. The
honour was not appreciated. Simeon
was more excited when hearing sounds of
pleasure escaping the lips of fellow
participants, not to mention anonymous
touches in total darkness.
However, nobody was looking.
Critical and disgusted eyes would never
see Simeon sucked by this ancient Ghoul
from Goole. They would never know.
His reputation was safe. And, yes,
it had to be acknowledged, there was, deep
in his sexual psyche, a perverse desire to
be touched by this vile, mouth-watering
fossil reposed on his sucking stool,
wanting and willing to work. And
work he did. He worked well with
tongue and clever, crafty hands.
Naughty fingers sticky with drool searched
and slid around the nooks and crannies of
bliss, as the young man’s half focused
eyes idly explored the dark recesses of a
dowdy, dreary room reverberating with
crashing ecstasy. All these
sensations were enjoyed, greatly enjoyed,
safe in the knowledge that the worker
would remain low, far away, far below
navel level. After a few precious
minutes of pleasure, Simeon finally
succumbed. He succumbed to the
succulent sounds of slurps and slobber.
He succumbed to overwhelming touches,
tickles, titillations and the distant
sounds of a North Sea busy port. It
all ended in that last familiar sound,
that finality, the escaping sigh, the
last, long, low murmur.
Back down in the tavern, Simeon was
assaulted by quick fire questions.
‘How did you get on upstairs? I had
a marvellous time in the cellar without
competition from Kenneth,’ boasted Toad.
‘He’s a very interesting man, a survivor
‘Has he talked about that awful suicide,
his boyfriend of many years back?’
‘That and much more. I need extra
time to hear that man’s extraordinary
philosophy on gay life. I don’t want
to offend you or your mother, but I’ve
been invited to spend the rest of the
weekend here. Now don’t get upset!
Face facts, your mother will be delighted
to be rid of me and Kenneth wants you to
be with us in whatever we do. I
insisted on that - no exclusions.
After all, first and foremost this is a
weekend with my dear friend Mr Toad.’
On that Saturday afternoon they motored to
a deserted and cold Bridlington where Toad
spent an hour in a toilet leaving the
others free to chat. Looking for a
sympathetic ear, Simeon explored his
suffering at school and mentioned Toad’s
behaviour earlier in the cafe which led to
Kenneth making a comparison.
‘You and Toad are like turtles. When
bad things happen you both go into a
shell. You go silent and stoic.
It’s the way you deal with hurt.’
‘Is that bad?’
‘No, it’s natural to resent an unkind
comment, but brooding on it should be
avoided. That’s the difference
between you and Toad. I’ve only
known you for a few hours, but you’re
inclined to mull over things. Toad
just moves on. That’s a good
quality. He’ll not fall out with
anybody. I ignore people who offend
me, Toad ignores nobody. In that
way, never cutting anyone adrift, he
receives more social support and makes
better use of life. He can teach us
both a lesson.’
Time spent with a new older, wiser friend
was a valuable experience for Simeon.
There were other weekends enjoyed at
Goole, but always with Kenneth, never
again with Mother Ghoul.