Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Forgetting to go to a funeral

Bill's funeral was today. And I forgot to go.

Bill was one of the pioneers of a decent, human response to HIV. In times, that today's readers could not, and indeed perhaps should not, comprehend Bill's response of simply being alongside stigmatised sickness was a beacon.

His impact on my own personal life is immeasurable. He founded Streetwise. My time as the first outreach volunteer, hanging out at midnight in Dunkin' Donuts at Piccadilly Circus speaking with young rent boys, encouraging condoms (and showers) has informed more of my character and being than I have words to describe.

Like me, Bill joined the Franciscans. We talked a bit about it some decades ago. We both knew why we joined. And we both knew why we left. That's 'God' for you. Let the reader understand.

Bill and his mind parted company some years ago. Since then his friend Verena has faithfully updated us with quarterly emails. When I got the latest to say Bill had died I put today, midday, Bill's Funeral in my diary.

Yesterday, I saw a message on Facebook. It alerted me to the fact that the Chief Planning Officer of the Corporation of London was up to no good. I'll not bore you with details, though if you want to know how corruption works in EC1 in 2018 do ask.

As I sat in the Livery Hall of the Guildhall, listening to deliberations of the Transportation and Planning Committee of the Corporation of London I glanced at my diary.

"Fuck. I shouldn't be here" was my first thought.  "Oh, yes I should" was my second.

The Chief Planning Officer's wicked recommendation was voted down 11-12.

Bless you Bill, and thank you. For everything.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Remembering and Resolving

As I write this in Bouillon Chartier some thirty odd years after I first ate here, I am brought to mind of how that first dinner came to be.

I was twenty.

I’d met Michael on my first visit to Heaven in Charing Cross a couple of years before. It was Toga Night. Michael was beautiful. About ten years older than me, strikingly handsome, german, and very, very smart.

We saw each other on and off, mostly off, for a couple of years. An eternity when you are eighteen. I loved him, and he was fond of me.

Michael had a place in Paris and he’d said I could stay there. I booked my ticket, (a train to Dover and ferry to Calais in those days), and planned my stay. He’d told me about Chartier, and I couldn’t wait.

The day I was leaving I went round to collect the key to his Paris place. It was weird but he didn’t seem at home and didn’t answer the door. I put it down to forgetfulness, and once in Paris found a room in a hostel near the Opèra instead.

I remember well that first night. Eating at Chartier, exploring the Marais, and the sauna. Discovering a friendly, respectful and joyful gay nightlife that in London had eluded me.

When I got back home I called Michael. No mobiles or emails in those days. Just a landline, or 1st and 2nd class post. Unable to reach him at home I called his office. His secretary answered. We’d spoken before, she knew who I was and was shocked that I had called.

Michael was dead.  She was surprised I didn’t know.

Three days before I’d left for Paris the mother of one of Michael’s lovers (who was nineteen) had reported him to the police. He’d killed himself the night before I left.

When I knocked on the door to collect the key, he wasn’t out, he hadn’t forgotten. He was lying dead, perhaps twenty feet from where I stood.

Remembrance of Things Past says Proust, in whose footsteps I have been walking. Yes indeed rememberance, but not just that.

I’ve never had much time (literally or metaphorically) for the modern fashions of analysis and therapy, but if I found some I expect it would confirm that it is the burning sense of injustice at the circumstances of Michael’s death that has determined how I've spent much of my time since.

Tonight I am grateful to Paris, to Chartier, to Proust and to red wine, for helping me to remember, and to resolve.