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Extracts from Secret Summer

Chapter 1

Dreams of Derbyshire

As usual, Simeon Hogg was homesick for England. As usual, to ease this chronic misery, he indulged himself by 'playing back' a pleasant memory of cycling along leafy Derbyshire lanes. He selected a recollection from his early teens, a ride from Belper to Wirksworth, a cool bright day in late September. The boy stood hard on pedals. Slowly, very slowly in low gear he pumped up a steep, pretty little lane, up, up to those windswept heights, up into the scent of fern and browning bracken.

This trip was memorable for its beauty, but also for its challenge. Simeon was often stopping to study his precious, cloth-bound, 'one inch' Ordnance Survey map in an effort to carefully navigate through a confusing myriad of many narrow, winding country lanes, all going everywhere. There were lots of cross-roads with intriguing signs pointing to odd sounding places - Gorseybank, Shottle, Alderwasley, Alport Height, Idridgehay - all so very strange - all so very Derbyshire.

Illuminated by dazzling autumnal sunshine, brilliant white clouds were chased by the wind across a heavenly vault of deep blue. This same wind roared through a battle-scared ash tree, danced the bracken, flattened the open meadow but appeared to have no power over a stubborn craggy old hawthorn at the edge of his pretty lane. Tirelessly, it speeded Simeon and moved a million different weeds. There were weeds mature after a long summer, weeds deep green and weeds beautifully brown flashing by as the lane sank into a ravine and then suddenly ascended to reveal magnificent views to the west.

The physical exertion, the physical pleasure, the rhythm of waving trees was consistent with Simeon's own body rhythms. Breaths of sweet fresh air, his increased heart-beat born of ecstatic exercise could never be achieved in a vast conurbation called Detroit.

Here, in his head, he was home. Here, over a swath of impenetrable prickly gorse he could see forever. Here, on his bicycle, he was on top of the world, could see a view of the whole world endlessly stretching out until it dissolved into a misty distant ... and, as the reverie weakened ... the scene dissolved and resolved back into the present reality ... a grim reality.

These were not the sunlit green hills of Derbyshire in late September 1959. These were the hideous, blighted, flat expanses of an endless, benighted conurbation in early January 1966. A sadder Simeon, barely out of his teens, navigated his car off the I94 Edsel Ford Freeway to join the John Lodge Freeway which would speed him into Downtown Detroit.

Even though his destination was sex, he was still sad owing to a massive complexity of problems, of which, homesickness for England was just a part. At this moment, on the Lodge Freeway, this unhappy 20 year old, trapped in an alien land, was overwhelmed by a multitude of vague miseries. He was incapable of analysing, unable to untangle the convoluted complications of his present circumstances. No professional gay-friendly counsellors were available - would not be available - for another four decades. Simeon was repressed. Simeon was isolated from friends, family and colleagues by the brick wall of ignorance, bigotry and prejudice which today we refer to as homophobia. Emotionally, he was hiding inside of himself. Effectively, he was an outlaw. He was cut off from all the well established heterosexual social structures of family support.

Simeon knew that he was queer. He knew it every time he saw a comely face, every time he saw nice butch bulges held snug inside of tight fitting sexy jeans. He also knew that it was wrong to be queer. He accepted received opinion about a certain 'disgusting disorder' which was sometimes treated with electric shock aversion therapy. Still imprisoned inside the primitive peasant values of his working-class family, and, in the absence of educated, enlightened counsel, Simeon Hogg was falling victim to that most dreaded malaise which often infected homosexuals in the mid 20th century - self hate.

For as long as he could remember, the heterosexual majority had, at every opportunity, reinforced their hard line against queers, perverts, poufs. These ingrained homophobic attitudes, written in stone, written inside his very being, came down from the very top of society often referred to as 'the Establishment'.

When the World Health Organisation was established in 1948, homosexuality was officially regarded, classified as a 'severe mental sickness' and remained so until May 17th 1990. This was one of the most important events in Gay History, an event now celebrated annually by Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people as the International Day Against Homophobia [IDAHO]

But Rainbow Flags, Gay Pride Events and publicly funded support groups like Derbyshire Friend were still unthinkable, still decades away from the current reality of this sad young Englishman who was trying to survive, trying to make sense of, trying to engage with the illegal, seedy, secret homosexual underworld of North America on this bleak mid-winter evening, January 8th, 1966.

Brief Encounter in Bradford

Reading for Bradford Pride - 28.05.09

An edited extract from Secret Summer.

Not far from Bradford city centre, Simeon cycled down narrow terraced streets, surprised and impressed to see women on their hands and knees scrubbing doorsteps and whole sections of pavement in front of their house.

He fell into conversation with a man who looked just like Andy Capp from theDaily Mirror, but Mr Capp was doubtful when asked about bed and breakfast. Kindly, he had a quick word with ‘the missus’ and suggested the cyclist might share a simple meal and stay the night. A man of few words, he ignored the boy’s offer to pay the standard fifteen shillings.

Simeon reasoned that a city the size of Bradford could support at least one gay pub – possibly more than one – but - especially in 1966 - a warning instinct prevented him from putting that question to Mr and Mrs Capp over the dinner table. Accordingly, after the repast, he consulted at the nearest homosexual Tourist Information Centre – the local cottage.

“The Junction! It’s at the bottom of Leeds Road. That’s where you need to be,” said a chatty chicken, with a cheeky smile, known as Fluff. “I’ll take you there.” For an underage drinker, this sexy number was surprisingly well informed. “It’s really old, seventeen something. The atmosphere in there is fantastic! Hey! In Victorian times it became a regular haunt for actors,” continued Fluff, flashing another enticing smile.

“Cora, she’s the landlady, well, she’s very stern - but fair. She always manages to keep order. Hey! Listen.” He stopped and faced Simeon. “Bet you can’t guess how she keeps order?”

“I’m all agog,” said Simeon. “How does Cora keep order?”

“Cora’s got an artificial tit! It’s hard, black and heavy, like a discus. If somebody’s a nuisance, she’ll chuck it at them to sort them out!”

Simeon, who preferred tea shops to pubs, was beginning to wonder if he really wanted to patronise The Junction with its ambiance of raucous laughter, rough company – not to mention the threat of flying tits. He considered returning to the cottage. It was a very busy cottage! On the other hand, it seemed rude to detach himself from this enthusiastic youth who was clearly enjoying his role as a Bradford tour guide.

Like most queer pubs, The Junction was noisy, crowded and smoky – even on a Thursday evening. As in most queer pubs, Simeon hated being pierced by those staring, leering eyes each time he made an entrance into any homosexual venue. He rationalised. Two chickens were likely to attract more attention than one chicken. Moreover, at least these cheery Yorkshire folk were not the sneering, leering eyes of the Derby Friary snobs. And another thing - Bradfordians shared something of the camaraderie he had enjoyed in the cramped, Derby Corporation Hotel passageway.

Simeon hated squeezing through a density of humanity to reach the bar for an orange drink he didn’t really want – so - sensing that young Fluff had no money, two half crowns were pressed into his sweet, soft chicken hand with an instruction to purchase two drinks. Fluff was surprised at Simeon’s choice of a soft drink.

“Truth to tell, I’d prefer a pint mug of hot tea. You know, the sort you’d get in a transport café.”

“If you don’t drink, why ask for a pub in the first place?”

“I asked for a queer pub. Anyway, I had to say something to you to get you out of that cottage, didn’t I?

A common feature of a gay pub is one dominant personality who holds court. In The Derby Friary it was Claud Hoadley. In the Derby Corporation it was Dolly. In The Junction it was a boastful queen, complete with bad teeth, known as Hetty Howitt who sported an odd sort of hair style, a bizarre zigzag effect which intrigued the observer from Derbyshire.

“It must be a wig!” he said to Fluff who had returned.

“Oh no,” replied the soft, downy chicken under his own mousy hair, beginning to look tempting and cuddly. Their hands touched, lingered, for longer than was required for the passing of a drink and change. Both boys held eye contact … until sheer embarrassment triggered a question.

“Not a wig?” said Simeon, wistfully, studying the adolescent fuzz on the other boy’s chin.

“Oh no,” said Fluff, again, more softly. He lowered his eyes and slightly craned his neck to better enjoy the effect of Simeon’s bottom, nicely filling out his close-fitting jeans.

He stirred himself.

“No, not a wig. It’s all his own. Know what,” he added, warming to his subject, “he’s bald except for the back and sides! He’s let it grow long at the back and drags it over to cover the top. It’s held in place by a half tin of lacquer. Hey! Know what? I saw him walk down by the Wool Exchange – it was windy. Fascinating! It started to lift – just like a pedal bin!”

Both lads giggled. And in that giggle, mindful of the crush giving a modicum of privacy, naughty Fluff felt free to feel, and made free with Simeon’s backside as Hetty’s bragging increased in volume, fired up by the recent purchase of his new Sunbeam Talbot.

“My dear it’s a dream on wheels! I insist! You must all go out and admire it. All of you. It’s stunning! You’ll all drool. It’s beautifully finished in black and gold.”

“Very nice,” drawled an acid queen next to Simeon. “It’ll match her teeth.”

Fluff and Simeon went out with the multitude – but not to admire a new Sunbeam Talbot. Unobserved, they crept down a scruffy, but interesting old cobbled lane – hand in hand. Past nine and getting dark, the cobbles were quiet, the only thing left of a one time neighbourhood of slum housing, probably cleared after the war.

Crossing a rough recreation ground, they broke hands after catching sight of a few grubby kids playing with a football. Minutes later they stood in front of a council house, one of many on that estate.

Mam’s at the pub. Come in and listen to my records.”

At this, Simeon expressed concern about finding his way back to the Capps residence, in order to return at a reasonable time, as is courteous for a B&B guest. At best, he could spend no more than an hour with his new friend. Fluff was miffed. He did not agree that it was necessary to ‘check in’ before 11.00 o’ clock. Simeon parried.

“I’m careful about my sleep! And I need to be in good shape to cycle to Harrogate tomorrow. As long as I’m back by half ten. Promise you’ll guide me – please?”

The promise was given. Moving through a depressing miasma of musty smells, they entered into a cheap, tacky atmosphere, clomping up stairs barely covered in thin, worn carpet. Fluff’s small bedroom, his little world, was equally in bad taste in terms of lurid colour and shoddy furniture, probably purchased from Woolworths circa 1959. But this was his little world. It was all he had, and it was clean and tidy, an attribute common to most gay boys.

The window overlooked ‘the rec’. Scruffy kids were still raucously yelping, laughing and kicking around an old ball in near darkness. It was even darker in Fluff’s little domain – time for a cuddle. It was an interesting cuddle because Simeon was overwhelmed by a strong, yet sad affection for this vulnerable child in his arms. Gentle and tender was the feeling, as if, gingerly, holding a young fluffy bird. Once again, it amused him to note that his bum was an area of erotic fascination receiving more strokes, more caresses from those sweet fluffy hands. They felt so good.

Simeon pulled back. His own hands, somewhat less naughty, cupped fluffy pale cheeks which had seen little sunshine. Sad eyes met sad eyes. Words were not spoken, but thoughts were thought. They said –

“Don’t go back to the Capps. Stay with me. Stay here all night. Don’t go to Harrogate. Let’s be together - always.”

Fluff broke the silence with an enthusiastic reference to his room decorated in brash radical contemporary patterns. Books, with garish covers displaying images of Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry and PC 49, competed with a few Eaglecomics and an intriguing poster of a handsome man with cap and black beard.

“Who‘s that?” asked Simeon.

“Che Guevara,” said Fluff.

“A pop star?” pressed Simeon.

“Don’t think so. Hey! Look at this! It’s only second hand, but it was 11 guineas new! It’s got four speeds! Dansette’s one of the best record players. It’s got an Italian styled cabinet!”

Only one speed was required – 45 revolutions per minute. Fluff went over to a rack of records and selected one which he considered to be romantic enough to suit the situation. It was a catastrophic failure! Simeon begged him to remove it from the turntable immediately on the grounds that he detested Tears by Ken Dodd. Something by Jim Reeves was offered. Simeon responded with a look of horror - but Don’t Worry Baby by the Beach Boys was very acceptable and played several times. With feathers slightly ruffled, Fluff suggested that Simeon’s wholesome insistence on early-to-bed, eight hours of sleep might be spoiling his fun in life.

“Bet you’ve never been on the Milk Train. You’ve got to be up late to catch the Milk Train.”

The next ten minutes were given over to an exposition of Fluff’s exciting Saturday night adventures in Manchester. He described wild escapades with his mates from Leeds in The Union at the junction of Princess Street and Canal Street. The Rembrandt and Trafford Long Bar were also mentioned. These well known gay pubs of Manchester were familiar to Simeon because he had been carted around them by the notorious Dolly of Derby in the previous year. Tongue in cheek, Fluff explained that ‘chucking out time’ coincided with Simeon’s bed time – ten o’ clock – but - carnal activities continued in the nooks and crannies of alleyways, jitties, tow paths and toilets until five minutes to midnight when the last train departed from Manchester Railway Station.

“I expect you were one drained, worn out Fluff dragging yourself on to that train!” asked Simeon with a slight edge of concern.

“Not always. Sometimes we were a right bunch o’ sluts! We deliberately missed that last train and extended the evening!

“Extended! No wonder you’re thin and pale. You can’t possibly keep on having seedy sex after midnight. Well, for starters, it’s not safe.”

“Manchester’s full of excitement into the night,” insisted Fluff. “Come and join us sometime. You’d like it. You could be nuzzling up to dodgy chickens in that sleazy all night café in Dale Street. You’d love it.”

“No I would not!”

“Yes you would! You could drink yourself silly at a shilling a time downing big pint mugs of tea.”

A big hug followed. They both fell on to a lumpy little bed and Fluff fumbled. It didn’t take long. In due course, the two boys lay quite still, silently, side by side, staring at the ceiling. The satisfaction was physical. Simeon was never hypocritical about sex. He enjoyed it, but in this instance, the experience had left him … troubled. He reasoned that there must be thousands of Fluffs in West Yorkshire who claim to be having a great time each weekend, out late, ‘on the piss’, ‘burning the candle at both ends’ and doing themselves little good with such an unhealthy life-style. Simeon knew that Fluff was unhappy and, abruptly, Fluff broke into these brooding considerations with an unexpected suggestion, an echo of his previous thoughts.

“Let’s be ‘an affair’!”

‘An affair’ was common parlance in mid 20th century homosexual English circles for a relationship / partnership. Simeon was more accustomed to the American term ‘lovers’.

“No kidding,” he insisted, “let’s go steady. I - I love you.”

Simeon looked at Fluff as an older, wiser person might look indulgently at a child. Emotionally, Fluff was a child and, quite simply, Simeon was not much wiser and did not know what to say to him. He considered reaching for the usual clichés such as – ‘Aren’t you confusing love with desire?’ or, ‘Where would we live, we have no money.’ or, ‘We have very little in common.’ On the other hand, Simeon respected the boy’s sincerity and was far more sympathetic in contrast to the callous cynicism often voiced by the older, sneering and envious types like Claud Hoadley.

“I expect you think you’re Prince Charming,” said Fluff, slightly tearful, but miffed by the delay in receiving an answer to his heartfelt proposal.

“Actually, I’m running away from Prince Charming.”

Having articulated the reality which now controlled his life, coupled with the passion for Ahmed which still obsessed, Simeon’s countenance clearly registered the anguish of his deep feelings, and Fluff, with alarm, noted that sudden pain.

“What’s a matter? Are you in trouble then? What’s wrong? Tell me. Please tell me.”

Simeon, feeling that, at the very least, he owed his new friend an explanation gave a brief and discreet outline of his escape from America. He spoke of Ahmed, butch as a brick, the gorgeous but dangerous criminal lover who still held him in a grip of passion.

“Why Harrogate?”

“Why not? It’s a nice place. It’ll do for a few days. I just have to keep moving to keep safe. Oh yes. I can see it in your face. It does sound like a tall story, but it happens to be the truth. Take it or leave it.” He looked at his watch and gave Fluff a kiss. “Sorry, little bird, time to go. Remember your promise?”

They walked across the rec, now deserted and cheerless, in sad silence. At the far end, the gloomy tension was eased when Simeon remembered Fluff’s earlier absorbing reference to the Milk Train.

“Oh, that!” he brightened. “They’ve got the right name for it, haven’t they! Slipping, sliding and that old train jolting and lurching – it’s a wonder I don’t break my neck. On some Saturday nights it’s a right gangbang. No, not Saturday - Sunday; because it pulls out of the railway station at four every Sunday morning.”

He was describing the early Sunday newspaper and parcels train which left Manchester with one ancient passenger coach which had no corridor. After missing the last train, just before midnight; Fluff and his randy friends had to wait four hours before boarding the Milk Train.

“It’s like this – you walk down the platform, along side the carriage and check who is in each compartment. If you see something nice, something you fancy – well - you get in with them. As soon as the train moves, you’re completely cut off because there’s no corridor, so nobody can catch you at it! Great! You can get cracking. You can get down to it. I’ve had fantastic rides in that lovely old ramshackle train! Last month, it was heaving; there were six of us going at it hammer and tongs! You’d love it.”

“No I would not! Don’t get me wrong, I like orgies – but a mobileorgy in the middle of the night! No way.”

Eager to secure as much time as possible, Fluff walked Simeon right up to the Capp’s front door at the entirely acceptable time of a few minutes past half ten. Simeon yawned, Fluff did not. Simeon was sad. Fluff was heartbroken and broke down into heavy sobs as Simeon tried to say goodnight. Alarmed, he pulled the tearful chicken into a side entry and, for a few minutes, comforted him, as best he could, with hugs, kisses and tender words.

“You need love, not Milk Trains,” he whispered.

“I love you,” moaned Fluff, miserably.

“You will meet Prince Charming,” said Simeon, pretending to be wise, pretending to be strong – a strength which was necessary for them both at that moment. “But don’t expect him to look like Prince Charming. Life is full of surprises.”

The few minutes turned into about a quarter of an hour before Simeon could extricate himself from his pitiful friend. The hardest part for both parties was the grim prospect of no further contact, save that they might meet again, sometime, by chance. But they never did. Simeon’s own heart was breaking as he gave a last wave to the sweet, slight, fluffy lad who looked alone, so very alone just before he turned the corner and went out of sight - forever.

Just for a moment he hoped that Fluff would turn and run back. Simeon would say – ‘The hell with the Capps! I’ll get my bike and we’ll go to a hotel and cuddle all night. I’ll hold my pretty little Fluff and never let him go’. But Fluff did not come back and now it was Simeon’s turn to hide his wretched face, give in to the spasms of despair and weep in that dark, lonely entry which was somewhere in Bradford

A personally signed copy of Secret Summer can be obtained from the author by sending a cheque for
£8.00 [this includes P&P]
To

Narvel Annable, 44 Dovedale Crescent, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1HJ
Phone 01 773 82 44 83

   


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