I was educated at Monkton Wyld School in Dorset (now Monkton Wyld Community) which specialised in self sufficiency and organic farming.
For many years I lived and worked in Malibu, California. I cultivated a three acre, subtropical smallholding. I successfully grew bananas, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, cherimoya and prickly pear.
When I left Los Angeles I bought a small-holding upstate New York.
Returning to the UK I was offered the opportunity to buy a coppice in Herefordshire.
The north-west facing hillside was, until 1950, an active quarry. I want to share with you what I’ve been up to.
Jenni Morgan senior director at Ecology Solutions reports:
‘The site as a whole was noted as being predominately Sycamore woodland in the north but with more Beech woodland in the south. Other tree species present include Wild Cherry, Pedunculate Oak and Silver Birch, with very occasional Hazel and Holly, although there is little understorey present beneath the trees. In terms of the ground flora, this does contain Dog’s Mercury, Yellow Archangel, Wood Anemone and Bluebells, but this is generally quite sparse on top of the hill and within the quarry area itself.
In general, the quarry was noted as being dominated by Sycamore trees, with little ground flora, and species present dominated by Ivy, although there were patches of Dog’s Mercury and occasional Red Currant and Wood Spurge in this areaThe areas of higher species diversity are to the north of the quarry, the track up to the quarry, and along the western bank as well as the southern part of the woodland, where the tree species become more dominated by Beech.
None of the trees within the quarry are considered to offer suitable opportunities for roosting bats, and given the sparse under storey, it is considered the woodland offers only limited potential for Dormice. No evidence of Badgers was recorded within the site, and although a number of mammal pathways were recorded through the woodland, evidence of deer was associated with these. Rabbit warrens were also recorded in the dell area and along the eastern hedge bank.
We also surveyed the ruined barn in the very northern tip of the site.The barn itself was recorded as not having any potential to support roosting bats (the stones were all mortared and there were no substantial cracks present that could support roosting bats).’
We have applied to The Woodland Trust agroforestry programme as eligible farmers.
‘The Woodland Trust is managing PUR project’s programme in the UK, in conjunction with the Soil Association and the Organic Research Centre. The aim of the Woodland Trust is to plant trees in smart ways that cut costs, raise yields and improve the environment. We accept applications for support from farmers interested in agroforestry to increase tree cover on their land, monitoring and sharing agreed environmental and farm business outcomes. This includes but is not limited to help with silvopastural schemes, alley cropping, shelter belts, riparian strips, pasture trees, wood fuel coppice and other agroforestry projects.
I won a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. The felling licence was based on a study conducted by arboricultural consultant Jerry Ross:
I’ve now been to site and marked up the trees that I think would be included – these are pretty well all of those within the quarry area, plus a few by the track up which I felt might be left a bit exposed after removing the others. I’ve tended to leave the trees at the top of the bank – around the edge of the sunken area and also those on the top of the quarry face itself.
I’ve shown this will be a Felling of Coppice operation; that it’s predominantly Sycamore and, by my count, that there are 41 ‘trees’ that I’ve included. By this I mean not only individual trees (of which there are a few) but also the multi-stemmed coppiced stools. so from these 41 ‘trees, roughly 103 stems arise. These are all marked with an orange paint spot. (A few very small and dead stems are not marked but it’s assumed they’d be removed as part of the re-coppicing.)
As for re-stocking I’ve calculated the area as shown drawn onto the topographical survey drawing you provided to be 0.15 hectares. I attach a map showing that area drawn onto an extract taken from the Hereford Council online administrative map.
I consulted with a Forestry Manager, John Evans, recommended by Nick Smith at the Forestry Commission, to assess my needs for a barn. John Evans recommended the stone barn was too small for our forestry needs. Mr Evans recommended a purpose built barn situated in the woodland at the back of the quarry.
John Evan’s Report:
1. 35m3 of round timber amounts to approximately 1.25 articulated lorry loads. It is the view of the author there is insufficient space to store the round timber within the existing barn, or adjacent to it safely.
2. There will be sufficient space to process timber into firewood and store it but the site constraints and building layout will reduce productivity significantly. In addition, the nature of the rebuilt buildings will make it difficult to dry the firewood to the required 20% moisture content, see:
Build a barn and adjacent hard standing within the quarry that provides enough space to efficiently process and air dry the firewood. The round timber can be partially air-dried outside before processing. Commercial firewood enterprises air dry processed firewood in stacked crates in a barn or similar which has good airflow.
We divided the barn into three necessary areas.
Drying. Fully ventilated and partially enclosed.
Processing. Covered but exposed.
An insulated and partially enclosed area with access to ventilated dry storage including: a) Secure storage. Equipment to include one tractor, one trailer, a large wood chipper and numerous smaller pieces of equipment.
Planning permission for the barn was granted at appeal in 2021 and barn construction will commence in Summer 2022.
As well as processing and selling logs from the coppice we will be forest farming. Amongst other activities we will keep a flock of free range, forest chickens, bees and plant a highly lucrative crop of Ginseng for which the north-west facing woodland at Cherry Tree Lane is perfectly suited: soil being consistently moist yet well-drained, loamy and rich in organic matter: leaf mould and other fallen tree debris.
Due to a beneficial easement we have access to well water from a neighbouring field.
Forest Farming produces high-value speciality crops cultivated under the protection of a forest canopy that has been modified and managed to provide appropriate conditions. It utilises forests for short-term income while high-quality trees are being grown for wood products. The amount of light in the stands is altered by thinning, pruning, or adding trees; 40% crown cover is usually desirable.
Existing stands of trees can be intercropped with annual, perennial, or woody plants.
Typically, a system can be established by thinning an existing forest leaving the best trees for continued wood production and creating conditions for the under-storey crop to be grown. The under-storey crop is then planted and managed intensively to provide short-term income.
Areas used for forest farming are usually small (5 acres or less), and systems usually focus on a single crop plus timber, but can be designed to produce several products.
Forest farming modifies the forest ecosystem but does not significantly interfere with its crucial contributions of water filtering, soil erosion control, microclimate moderation, and wildlife habitat.
Although labour intensive forest farming provides opportunities to generate short-term income from existing woodlands, with minimum capital investment and contributes significantly to diversification and rural economic development.
Economic benefits can be significant. Logs can produce shiitake mushrooms worth 5-10 times the value of the logs themselves, and forest-cultivated ginseng averages £122-245 per pound.
During one of the last text conversations I had with Ana she asked me to write a blog update. A redux. Here it is.
You might be wondering why I’m roasting this old chestnut. Ana Corbero? Didn’t you wave goodbye to that old bint in 2017? Didn’t she leave you gasping for air like a freshly caught fish? Well… that’s what should have happened. I should have left well alone but life never turns out the way one thought it should. Sometimes, so it seems, I just can’t help myself from another thrashing.
At present Ana Corbero is living in Espluges, Barcelona. She lives in the palace of arches created by her tricky, tax dodging father Xavier Corbero. On instagram she belches how she is surrounded by love and light. She’s opening a gallery, she offers her close artist friends exhibitions in the space… only four years ago she called her fathers house, ‘that vile mausoleum I want nothing to do with’.
Things were not so good for Ana in February 2019.
On March 1st 2019 Ana Corbero emailed me. Desperate and alone… her husband and children, she cried, had abandoned her. Penniless, addicted to drugs, trapped inside her lavish Andalucian jail… like a Saudi princess.
It’s time to revisit Ana Corbero, describe the creature she really is. How Ana Corbero deserved to be abandoned and humiliated by her husband and her children. I shall continue telling the truth about Ana Corbero… her lies, her manipulation, the manipulation of her story, the story of her ‘trauma’. Her trauma, allegedly inherited from grandparents, from dolls, from Miro, from the Virgin Mary. Trauma, always her excuse for behaving exactly however she wants when she wants and anyone who has the audacity to contradict her is a hyena, a heretic, a narcissist.
But how did this happen? How did you fall back into her poisonous web, Duncan? Why didn’t you listen to those you trusted? Why couldn’t you stay away?
March the first 2019. Ana Corbero asked for help. She could have asked any number of people. She could have asked her rich Turkish friend Mr Koc. Her rich French friend Mr. V. She could have asked Elsa Peretti who bank rolled her father’s excesses. She could have asked the poisonous Celia Lyttleton. The poisonous Celia Lyttleton who once arrived on my doorstep in desperate need of help, babe in arms, until she was ready to move on. Ana Corbero could have asked any number of these rich friends but in her time of greatest need she asked me. And that, my friends is how a fool and his money are easily parted.
Some might say, oh just let it go. You can just imagine who might say that. People… rich enough not to notice the absence of several hundred thousand euros.
Begrudgingly, I answered her call. “What do you want?” I was irritable and uncommunicative. How did she know I was in Seville? She persisted and after some persuading I met with her. If only to tidy up past resentments. Because, as we all know, resentments are the number one killer of people pleasers.
At her house in Carmona she sat on a wide, yellow, gingham sofa. Tiny and thin as you could not imagine. Smoking one cigarette after another. Her eyes sunk into her head. The house was cold and damp. The smell of nicotine lingering. She began sobbing.
I asked what had happened.
“Nobody knows how to help me,” she wailed.
The staff had lined up in front of her unable to help. The nurses and housekeeper and gardeners. Everyone was exhausted by her. A year later, she would do the same to me, take everything I had… emotionally, physically and spiritually.
She sat on the sofa and told her sorry tale of a one page divorce she signed because she loved her husband and she said she would do anything he wanted. She had given him everything, now she had nothing. The children refused to see her. Like most desperate fools she was incapable of owning her part in a disaster of her own making. She was the victim, the wretched victim who had only others to blame.
However self piteous, it was hard not to feel compassion for her. However she’d behaved, surely she didn’t deserve this?
As I was preparing to leave the house that damp Spanish afternoon she grabbed hold of me and begged me to help. I thought for a moment and wondered how many times I had been desperate for help but unable to ask. Desperate and alone, this catastrophe was of her own making. So I said this,
“I will help you, I will do anything it takes to help you. But you must let me help you the way I see fit. I will be paid for my time if and when you are liberated from your shoddy divorce agreement and your father’s inheritance bares fruit. This help does not come for free.”
I asked her to consider signing an agreement and I left.
I stayed in my hotel in Carmona and flew back to London the following day.
Ana met me in London.
During the hours we spent together I attempted to unravel her various problems. Her problems were complex but not unsurmountable. The divorce she had consented to was a mess and obviously signed when she was high or drunk (no excuse). What little leverage she had I knew I was going to have to exploit to force her husband into a negotiation.
We needed lawyers. The best I could find. The best I could pay for.
Her father had left her (and her step mother Midu) his €150 million estate which was held in a complicated trust in the British Virgin Islands.
I introduced Ana to my lawyer Arthur Bing Nelson in London who specialises in trusts. I explained whilst I was helping as a friend, I expected to be paid for my time. The meeting was just one of many where Ana seemed incapable of grasping the bigger picture. Distracted, not looking like the beneficiary of a large estate but a resentful fool, too preoccupied with herself to help herself.
She had a plan to be closer to her children. She had been on-line house hunting for a place near her children’s boarding school. I drove her to see the apartment overlooking her children’s school unaware, until she mentioned in passing… the children were not just refusing to see her they had demanded to be protected from her, they were not allowed to see or communicate with their mother due to her abusive behaviour. The school had been instructed to safeguard them. As it turned out the children were mere trading chips in her ghastly game of cat and mouse with the cause of her primary resentment… Nabil, her ex husband. Nabil the ‘narcissist’, ‘the viper’, ‘the liar’. I was unaware that day, as we drove into the verdant english countryside the depth of deception and self deception Ana was capable.
I agreed to return to Seville for a longer visit to see what we could do to spring her from her gorgeous jail. When I returned to Seville I affirmed I was willing to do whatever it took to help her get back onto her feet and she signed the agreement to pay me an hourly rate, disbursements and expenses.
I hired Miguel and Patricia, two incisive and brilliant lawyers from the international law firm Garrigues. At our first meeting, I explained what we needed. 1. Ana needed her ex husband to renegotiate the terms of her divorce. 2. We needed to onshore her father’s offshore assets. 3. We needed to deal with a highly complicated tax liability. It was complicated but I understood clearly what needed to be done whilst Ana, yet again, sat in the meetings like a troubled child asking about plates she had left in her London apartment Nabil refused to return.
Nabil Gholam had done a brilliant job of wrestling everything from her. Kept on a short financial leash at the house in Carmona, refused entry to their apartment in London. The property she owned with her husband in Carmona was in a company over which she had no control. The other property they owned world wide had been signed over by herself to her husband. Even her father’s estate was supposedly left to Nabil. What little room he had left her to wriggle was enough for me to get her out of the agreement or at least make his life uncomfortable. He was breaking corporate rules, he was not following even the basic rules of running a Spanish company therefore opening himself to legal scrutiny.
Everyday I research property laws, company laws, I gain an encyclopedic knowledge of offshore trusts, the British Virgin Islands and onshoring. I am searching for loopholes Ana could step through to avoid the problems she had created. I coordinate the various lawyers, accountants and advisors.
As Ana saw a way out of her prison she became wilful and surly, rather than take the opportunity to change anything in herself, she set about using my money and time righting historical wrongs. As she became stronger she became more arrogant.
Every day as I sorted one problem she would set about creating another.
The control she now felt confident to exert on others she attempted on me. She told me how to breath, how to stand, how to eat and insisted I gave her urine and stool samples so she could test how my insides were doing. I refused.
Desperate for cash she took her watches to a dealer in Seville and sold them. She asked me to contact Jay Jopling and offer him a bronze by Pablo Gargallo of Kiki de Montparnass. After I offered it to him (by text) Ana admitted it was a copy of the original by her father Xavier Corbero. Thankfully Jopling declined the sculpture.
A burly man from Seville arrives at the house. He has a bag of tools and a toxic body odor. Convinced the safe in her bedroom is packed with her husband’s collection of tax avoiding watches, Ana hired a safe breaker who worked all day to cut into the safe. He failed, filling the house with acrid smoke and foul, grey dust. The staff and I looked on helplessly as the safe breaker cut through the steel and concrete. Of course, she refuses to pay him.
High on the thought of freedom she demands furniture moved from wing of the house to another. Huge wardrobes dismantled. Beds and sculpture hauled needlessly from one side of the house to another. No longer the sickly sparrow she became a fucking monster.
At night we would work through the research I continued to compile but Ana was incapable of listening, berating me with stories from her past and the ‘inherited trauma’ of her great grandparents. She would sob and claw at her face keeping me awake until dawn.
Weeks of hard work passed. Her friend Mr V turned up from Mexico City and commended the work I was doing for Ana.
“We all need a Duncan in our lives.”
The chaos at the house intensified, Ana found her daughter’s diary who had written pubescent fantasies about the gardener. Whether they were true or not was a different matter. Seizing on this opportunity to cause more problems Ana calls the police, lawyers and social workers. We have the most gut wrenching chat with the gardener who casually denied the accusations looking at his boss with total disregard. Both me and Mr V (gay men) had seen the daughter use highly sexualised maneuvers. I extricated myself from the moment and informed her father.
Unexpectedly, Ana’s lawyers, the expensive ones from Seville… Miguel and Patricia turn up at the estate. We sit in the garden because Ana is paranoid her husband Nabil is eavesdropping from Beirut. We discuss everything in English, we discuss the divorce.
“Well, she signed it.” Patricia shrugged.
They were tiring of her antics. Why are they here? We discuss the property in Carmona held in the Spanish company she owned equally with Nabil. We discuss her father’s estate. We discuss the children and Nabil’s access to the house. Then Ana starts speaking Spanish. It isn’t unusual. But Patricia turns to me and says,
“We are discussing Anna stealing money from her daughter’s trust account.”
“How much money?”
“Enough for the authorities to be alerted.”
My heart sank lower than an ocean. I immediately tried to rationalise.
“I’m sure Ana is very embarrassed.”
I spluttered, but at that moment I knew what was happening, I felt so foolish… and I knew I couldn’t trust this greedy, common thief ever again. Stealing from her severely disabled daughter so she could attend a fancy party in Istanbul made a fool of me and my help.
Laughing how her husband would hide shaking in the pantry whenever they had a fight, she scoffed how a big man was shaking with fear, in fear of tiny Ana. But I knew Nabil wasn’t frightened of her… he was frightened of what he might do to her.
3am. I am bitten by a mosquito. So exhausted my immune system compromised, a thick red line of angry infection runs from the bite up my arm. I know it’s serious. We go immediately to the hospital in Seville. In the hospital she tells anyone who will listen that I am her husband. Unable to move she strokes my brow and calls me darling. The doctors confirm the worst: Lymphangitis.
Recuperating from the nasty infection I retreat to Ana’s house in Tavira, Portugal. At her suggestion I move my things out of storage and into the empty house. Ana sends video updates from Carmona. Videos of her husband wheeling her daughter’s wheelchair around the estate with the nurse. Whilst in Tavira we were contacted by middle man Enric Badia who acts for developer wanting her father’s estate. I construct a deal. If not for him for other potential buyers. The deal takes care of the offshore element/instrument, the tax… leaving Ana with a life changing amount of money.
It took weeks to recover from the infection and fight off sepsis. Emboldened by her inevitable jailbreak Ana took the reigns. As it turned out this meant more underhand shenanigans. She used her housekeeper, Ani to pass notes to Nabil bypassing the lawyers. Trying to make deals. Nabil’s lawyers tell Patricia and Miguel. When Garrigues discovered what she was doing they fired her. Speechless. Spent. It was over. She had burned her last bridge. I was so weak fell into the hall shelves and smashed her precious painted teapot, smashed into a thousand pieces.
I wished it had been her head.
The following week she turned up in Tavira and told me to leave immediately.
Persuaded to read my previous blog the only critique she had?
“I don’t have black eyes!” Of all the terrible revelations? That was it.
Of course, a nasty legal fight unfolded. She held onto the money she owed me. She still owes me. Of the approximately €400,000 she owes me she paid me £15,000. Now it’s with lawyers. We are waiting for the court to give us a date.
It seems she has moved into her father’s house. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Why didn’t she move into it sooner? As we began the process of suing her I knew I couldn’t take this situation personally. Ana treated many people like she treated me and she will continue to treat people the same way. It is what a narcissist does.
If you spot it you got it. Everything she accuses others she suffers herself. She has paid a huge price for her inability to address her character defects. Expecting everyone else to clear up her mess. Whether that mess is dog shit in the sitting room or refusing to deal with her father’s inheritance… her unrealistic expectations of others are huge and can never be fulfilled. It makes me sad to think a 65 year old woman can be so far from peace of mind. As for me? I suggest you read my previous blog. I think it explains everything. I couldn’t save you Ana. I shouldn’t have tried.
Last night I made Indian food at home for friends. A convivial evening. The weather has been spectacular this week. The religious parades a little lacklustre, they don’t compare with the magisterial opulence of the spanish equivalent. Yet, even though I don’t believe in christianity, I bow my head before those who do.
This morning the apartment is scented with cassia, cardamom, coriander…
Last week the rains were gratefully upon us.
The sky is dove gray, the cloud ombréd into anthracite onto the horizon. Spring storms are coming. Gulls wheeling over the Rio Gilao. The swifts are no longer screaming, they are hiding in their mud and saliva nests under the eves. The deluge comes, polishing the cobbles. Parasols flap and drip onto miserable tourists. An inescapable torrent. I may have left the window open.
I am unpacking my unhealthy, enmeshed relationship with women. I am the one… I have consistently had unhealthy relationships with women. I am the one. Ending in dismay, disloyalty, disappointment. I could make a million excuses but I am the one. Whether it is George or Samia, rich or poor, bright or not… they open the door to their misery and like a fool, I rush in.
I wanted to save my mother. I couldn’t. I was powerless. I wasn’t enough. I lay in bed listening to the screams. I couldn’t save her. I was just a boy! What could I do? In my teens I ended up resenting her because she couldn’t save herself. Nor us. I know my brothers were terribly wounded. They sabotaged their father’s funeral.
Truth never picks a side.
A famous friend is crying hard about the pressure of fame, success. She is crying because she hates talk shows, she hates the publicity grind. She is bleating and moaning, the hard rain is falling. It is difficult to listen, knowing just how they reaped the rewards of the entertainment industry. I am full of judgement until I admit I’ve been there myself, equally indulgent. I’ve written about it, the loneliness of success.
If I believe my creative gifts are god given, yet… when the universe delivers I wonder: am I deserving? ‘No, you are not.‘ I hear the voice in my head so clearly, speaking to me using my voice. ‘You are an imposter, you’ll always be an imposter.’
Remember that night? The night in question, that night, that great night… leaving the theatre deafened by applause, even though I had many who would have congratulated me I had no one to call. I was completely alone, enduring the discomfort of the moment, so fearful, I wanted to call my mother but that door was closed to me. I felt so fragile, it was impossible to enjoy my success. The intensity of the moment was nothing I had experienced before. It was so overwhelming I ran away, I fought it off. I am only deserving of punishment. I have stripped myself of every opportunity presented me. I have sabotaged each and every gift. I have behaved like a lunatic.
Ana, Samia, Donna, Eleanor, Georgina, Hilary. A longer list exists… I am sure. Women I wanted to save, save from husbands, boredom, grief, family, loneliness. When will I ever learn? Maybe this is the moment? I am the one? It always ends up the same way, even when I have set the boundaries, considered my motives, written the contract. The outcome is always the same: RESENTMENT.
Ana calls me her husband, George wants to marry me, Donna is furious when I tell her friends I am gay. Samia meets me in Paris for what? She woefully reminds me how old she is. What became of them?
Drawn to their helplessness, tiny Ana lost on her huge sofa, penniless. Donna consumed by her hoard, piss and shit saved in plastic bags, Samia shamed by her menopause. Georgina’s body wrecked by Parkinson’s, her bank accounts raped by her daughter. I have learned, just now. This day. Unless those who have becomes victims to circumstance take hold of their own lives no one can help them. What could I do? I was just a boy! I can momentarily drag her out of poverty, over the shingle to the restaurant in the wheelchair… but I cannot will them to live, to stop making the same mistakes.
By consorting with a woman and her shame, I can only fail. Those who saw me wrecked by grief must never lay eyes on me ever again. When ‘saved’ what do we need with our saviour? If incapable of saving, we slip into the oily, cold water of failure. Like Jack from Rose.
Men I know sharing how they drank and used drugs like heroes: they drank like Travis Bickle, snorted like Scarface, loved like Nick Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Their cinematic memories, their euphoric recall is so often vulgar and self-aggrandising. If I drank like a character in a movie? I am Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Baby Jane Hudson. King baby. Writing a letter to daddy. Knocking back the bourbon, controlling the outcome, taking hostages.
Looking in the mirror. Crying. Drowning in self pity.
Thank God I cast myself in another movie. The movie I am living right now. Am I happy because of the therapy or the anti depressants? I am luxuriating in the moment. I love my things. The temperature is perfect. I do not wish to shut the door on my past but, thank god, I am not my story. My story, the story of casual violence and hopelessness merely gave me excuses to behave badly. ‘If you had my story you too would be a monster’, that is the lie we tell ourselves. Without my story I have no excuse. I am the one.
My mother ended up saving herself. She has the life she wants. I respect and accept that. It has taken decades of reflection to own my part. It was a process aided by the voices of so many willing to share their truth. Faith overcomes fear. I know, no matter what, I will be ok.
If ever there were I time I needed this blog… then now would be that time. Writing has always afforded me the opportunity of untangling the scribble of thoughts and furies in my head. When I was a boy I made sense of complications (secrets and lies) by writing. Setting out the problems and finding solutions. My first attempt at creative writing, a series of short stories about mice… written when I was no more than 11 years old. Reading them now they are a fascinating and heart wrenching attempt to unravel the unrelenting brutality I suffered at the hands of my step-father, at school and the casual racism of Whitstable people.
Now I am kept awake at night by other furies, no less brutal. The continuing and evolving cruelty of Brexit. The take down of an elected leader by those who sought to discredit with lies and false allegations of anti-semitism. Watching a good and honest man hooked by his enemies, made to squirm for no good reason other than he sought to challenge the vile status quo and support the arab people of Palestine, confronting apartheid Israel.
Many, many people feel hopeless after the recent UK election. A rigged electoral system, a billionaire owned press spouting lies about a good man then amplified by state media. The obvious similarities to all those soviet style broadcasts we smirked at thirty years ago becoming apparently ours. This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg. Ha! Riven from the ice by global warming. Climate change another of the challenges facing humanity denied by the same charlatans who sought to destroy Jeremy Corbyn.
There are two distinct types of people at home in the UK. Those who are invested in the truth and those who believe anything they are told. It is clear to people like me they dare not challenge the dominant voice. The others do not dare to take on the establishment. They cower before the lie.
You know I’ve never held my tongue. Restraint is alien to me. I’d rather lose a friend than stay quiet. This happened just before Christmas three years ago at an old friend’s house. Tom Croft and his wife Max. Sir Tom Croft. I’d know Tom since my teens and was very fond of his parents and his spinster aunt. I had spent years of Christmas at Tom’s beautiful converted barn. They had very kindly included me in many of their social events. Lunches, beach parties and garden parties, their garden is magnificent! However, their pretentious gardener, the vile Posy Gentles is not. I’d not always enjoyed these excursions. Their posh white friends were gruelling company. Trapped in a tight spot, forced to find any conversation with Amicia De Moubray, married to Kent’s Lord Lieutenant is a special kind of hell. However, I played the game and respecting Tom’s feelings ignored their right wing banta and kept my end of the conversation non controversial.
Christmas Day, three years ago at an intimate supper with Tom and Max I was forced to endure a local carpenter’s offensive opinion of gay men. I complained. Tom kept quiet as his wife, a Guardian editor, sought to protect the idiot carpenter and silence my experience as a gay man. She sought like most right wing women, at the highly polished, mahogany dinner table, to defend the dominant article: a white heterosexual male who didn’t want to understand his privilege. Who couldn’t bare… not for one moment to walk in another man’s shoes. I couldn’t shake the resentment and wrote her the following day:
‘Privilege has nothing to do with money. You may very well have come from a worst family situation than me (tho I doubt it) even if that was the case my journey as a gay man these past 60 years has not been easy and when I share my story I do not expect you to diminish my experience.
I do not expect you to be gay holocaust denier. I do not expect you to do anything other than respectfully listen to those who suffered because they were/are out gay men fighting for equality, visibility and anti vilification.
Here is what you refused that night to acknowledge for me and millions of other men my age:
1. Born a criminal. Know what that means? Ask other gay men in their sixties. It means when I was born a gay man could still be sent to jail for being gay. In fact, men were still being sent to jail for consensual sex acts as recently as 1988.
2. Facing violent prejudice in the street if you were an out gay man. Swearing, spitting hitting and worse. And as I found recently still evident on the less enlightened streets of some European countries.
3. The aids crisis deliberately ignored by government because it was perceived as a gay plague. Watching over 100 young men dying gruesome deaths.
4. Section 28, Margaret Thatcher’s draconian discriminatory anti gay law.
5. Marriage and other institutions lgbt people were excluded from.
6. Fear of openly expressing affection to ones we/I loved. This is perhaps the most egregious.’
She replied she did not recognise herself from my description and we were no longer friends. She wrote this from a holiday in Istanbul she and her husband shared with Anne McElvoy and Martin Ivens, the editor of The Sunday Times, who have located to my home town of Whitstable. One can imagine how they soothed her ruffled feathers and told her to ignore the uppity faggot.
The Guardian is now under the thumb of MI5. Forced to destroy their hard drives by a man from the ministry, the editor removed after printing ghastly truths provided by Julian Assange. How can anyone have any respect for Max Croft?
Arriving from London last Tuesday Sir Tom and his dog were waiting at the station. He said hello. I shook my head. His absurd wife, Lady Max Croft greeted him with a shrill. I do not need their garden parties, their equally dreary friends or their condescension. I do not need them to protect their friends from uncomfortable truths.
I haven’t written my blog for a very long time. Life sure has changed these past few years. The Little Dog, after a wonderful life, born on the streets of LA, travelling the world… a little dog who loved Paris and knew we were there whenever we arrived… caught his last breath in a veterinary surgery in Canterbury four weeks ago. He was done.
The day before he died he staggered into the garden and lay in the cold and dark under a garden chair. It was the sign I needed. The following day we said our goodbyes to our friends in Whitstable. Marilyn and Johnny held him one last time. He had been with me for longer than any human. Now he is a small tube of ashes, his coat, collar and passport.
There are days when I want to be where he is. But I know the Little Dog is waiting for me and whatever death God has planned for me it gives me solace to know this.
We have been living in Portugal these past years. Trapped by covid and inertia. We had our routine. We walked the little park every day. Occasionally, but not nearly enough, walked the beach. He loved the sand. That’s where I will scatter his ashes. Forever running on the sand.
My own brush with death in 2020 started on the morning of December 17th and ended four months later. Gripped by Covid. Hospitalised, plagued by demons, holding onto life. Covid 19 changed everything. My semi lifeless body washed from head to toe by gentle nurses. Learning to walk again. I agreed to take antidepressants. To be honest, from the hit of the first pill… I haven’t looked back. I wish I had taken them when they’d been offered years before. Everything changed. Everything. I take my pill and fear falls away. Finally I love everything I own, I enjoy the colours and the form but my self esteem is not tied up in my possessions or what I may have or have not achieved. Settled in my own body I finally have the peace of mind I thought would elude me til my deathbed.
Life is not without difficulties but my faith is simple: if I own my part, everything will be ok no matter what.
Fearlessness has its downsides. Recently I was queer baited in a supermarket in the small Algarve town where I live. Instead of ignoring the assailant I stood up to him. He was violent and I fought back. I thought ‘Duncan, you are 60 years old, it’s now or never’. By the time the brawl was over the supermarket was trashed, the police arrived. We were taken in separate ambulances to separate hospitals. My feet lacerated, glass shards are still making their way out of my toes. The gay paramedic in the ambulance advised me to contact a gay helpline who organised a lawyer gratis. They have been handling the situation ever since. It was time to fight back. It was time.
I let professionals deal with problems I cannot. Doctors, dentists, the gay lawyer. The Spanish lawyers: I am still suing Ana for the money she owes me. The property in Herefordshire is gently unfolding in the right direction. We won three major planning successes (one at appeal) and I love, more and more, being there. I realised I had never experienced my property in the summer so made my way there last July. It was such a treat. So quiet and beautiful.
Georgina, now it’s your turn. I have to write about you.
As I flew home from London to Portugal late last night in the rowdy Ryanair airbus, trying to ignore the menacing, drunk racists laughing around us I looked out of the window over the villages below me. Lit up like galaxies. Some strong and bright and highly coloured. Some weak and small swallowed up in the black, moonless landscape. Constellations above me, constellations below.
I had spent just one day of the planned 10 in Whitstable. Whitstable. How happy you and Georgina have made me these past 7 months. My mother and I have reconnected and made our peace. Richard, my best friend during my twenties is now married, children grown, a grandchild on the way. We sat by the fire in the Oyster Company drinking tea and catching up. Strangely, or not so strangely, our life trajectories had unknowingly intersected those three decades. Holidays in Montauk when I would have been there. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway past my house. He has a great deal to be proud of. The business thrives after thirty years. His son is strong and handsome, intelligent and humble.
I met Georgina Jenkins shortly after she moved to Whitstable 22 years ago.
Georgina bought the Copeland House bed and breakfast on Island Wall from John and Jill. John and Jill were fat when nobody was fat. Their obesity was a shameless part of their character as much as their gold chains and fancy set gold sovereigns. Jill had huge, baggy arms and voluminous breasts that swallowed you up when she hugged you. They owned the green grocer on the corner of Terry’s Lane before the council knocked it down, replacing the tatty nissen hut, the public toilets and the assembly rooms with rows of ship lapped faux fishermans cottages with ugly dormers and triangular windows that point into the eaves, never properly blinded.
Jill and John wanted a bed and breakfast thinking it less taxing than lugging boxes of spuds and brussels from Covent Garden every day. They bought the abandoned coastguard cottage by Keam’s Yard, Copeland House. They cleared out Nobby and other assorted drunks squatting there. Johnny put up terrible partitioning and equally bad wallpaper and voila: Jill and Johnny had Whitstable’s first seaside bed and breakfast.
A decade later, time to retire… Jill and John bought a bungalow in Yorkletts. Moving from Essex, a leap of faith, Georgina bought the B&B and set about poncifying her gold mine the day after she bought it. Out came Jill’s ghastly nick knacks replaced with a life time collection of Clarice Cliff. Out went Johnny’s pale yellow winceyette, brushed nylon and fire hazzard bedding replaced with white linen and interlined curtains.
George, divorced from famed book maker John Jenkins, has two children: Sophie Kay and Patrick Jenkins. After 15 years making the best full English in Kent Georgina retired and her daughter Sophie and son in law Michael Kay bought the bed and breakfast. They closed it abruptly and applied to the local council for change of use.
Like so many Essex woman of a certain genre, Sophie is instagram ready the moment she leaves the house. Alternately gurning or pouting in every filtered picture taken. Fake tits, fake tan, no conversation her ex boyfriend sent to prison for fraud, stealing credit cards. When I met her she had recently stabbed her boyfriend Adam Wright in the chest, he was hospitalised. She boasts she has many friends, a multi million pound property portfolio, that her daughter Poppy is top of the class. Is any of it true?
Patrick, Georgina’s son who I detested for years, has learned from both British and American prisons there is more to life. I now have a great respect for Patrick after years of being frightened and intimidated by him. Patrick has owned his addiction and from what I have seen of his writing could be a great writer. We unexpectedly had cause to visit Brighton and he beguiled me with his unique and compelling stories.
I always have time for an addict who owns his shit. Understandably, the rest of his family are less willing to forgive his unmanageability. Patrick’s children Henry and girlfriend Brooke, his daughter Grace and her drug dealer boyfriend Billy no longer speak with him. This family run in a pack. His aunt Gay Briggs and her daughter Chloe Coates also ignore Patrick. Chloe has a dim, posh husband called Jack Coates. Patrick calls Jack, Pussyhole. However, dim Jack is bright enough to know how uncomfortable Sophie and Michael Kay’s casual racism/homophobia made him. The Spanton/Jenkins are heavy drinkers. Gay drinks red wine and nods off at the end of dinner. They all think far too much of their moderate success and limited achievements.
I knew Georgina’s chain smoking sister Gay Briggs years before I met Georgina, she never really interested me. Gay is a show off who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. A fog horn boasting into the wind.
Lately, the pack has shrunk. Gay’s charming husband Bruce recently died of a massive stroke ‘he farted three times and I knew he was dead‘ and their hugely popular sister Maxine died of a rare leukemia. The best of the family died with them.
Georgina is my friend. I love her very much. An unlikely partnership. 14 years older than me, those who saw us together were bemused. When I lived in Whitstable I would leave her to deal with visitors from London when I couldn’t. We would cook, garden and travel. We fantasised owning a hotel. We wanted the Dolphin Hotel in Herne Bay but when push came to shove, it was a scary prospect. Wherever we went we would pretend we were looking to buy property and make time-wasting appointments with realtors. It was our hobby. We spent three months in Australia. Gallery owner Oscar Humphries was astounded we shared a room. Not a bed. We jogged from Bronte to Bondi and every day worked out at the City Gym. We drove from Sydney to Melbourne. We drove with Oscar into the outback and photographed a Bachelor and Spinster’s ball for the Sydney Morning Herald.
I wanted her to see everything I loved. I took her to Fire Island, we stayed at the Mercer Hotel in New York City, we travelled to film festivals. When I made the Elizabeth Hurley movie she pretended to be my mum when I had to entertain the producers. When I brought Jake B to London it was George I wanted him to meet.
Even though she had an occasional romantic love for me (mocked by her daughter) she knew her romantic love could never be fulfilled. And even though I continued to have intimacy with men I didn’t flash my various affairs or one night stands in her face because I knew it would hurt her. Most gay men I know have a very close woman friend in lieu of a mother. As my mother and I became closer, leaving decades of resentment behind, my relationship with George changed too.
George and I were fractious on occasions but never bored. We had a few, huge dramatic fights. Fantastically frugal she knew to the last penny how much money was owed at a restaurant. How many sweets we shared on a road trip. Every penny profit was a ‘touch’. Her family never approved of me even though, when I lived in LA, I was forced to accommodate and entertain them. I invited Georgina many times to Los Angeles but she never came. She would have loved it. The garden. The space. Malibu.
So, it was with great sadness I learned she had Parkinson’s Disease. She deteriorated quickly.
I would occasionally pop in to see her whenever I was in Whitstable, avoiding Patrick. She was often on her own and would ask me to help out with little tasks as her mobility was impaired. She never forgot my birthday and I would keep up with her on social media. Last year she told me her family (all of the above minus Pat) plus Sophie’s red faced husband Mickey and Pat’s ex wife (also called Georgina) were travelling to Cyprus for two weeks. George told me proudly Mickey is treated ‘like a king’ in Cyprus.
So, needing to be in Whitstable, Georgina invited me to stay. It was lovely to be with her but what I subsequently discovered was extremely disturbing. Stories of casual abuse from her unemployed daughter Sophie. The evidence of neglect was clear to see. The formerly beautiful beach house George moved into after she sold the B&B to Sophie was such a mess! My Mary Poppins gayness got the better of me: Piles of old papers sorted. A huge, unused treadmill sold. The 18th century Indian bed she used as a coffee table returned to its correct place, loose covers freshly laundered.
The previous year, left alone in the house she had fallen badly and broken her hip. When the ambulance arrived her family came to kiss her goodbye. Each one of them solemnly climbing into the ambulance. They didn’t expect George to survive a covid hospital and rehab. The youngest grandchildren were told they wouldn’t see their grandmother again.
The family extended their stay in Cyprus from two to five weeks. I stayed on in Whitstable to keep her company. We established a nice routine. Working with her carers and Emma the cleaning lady we restored order where there was none and a good routine for her safety. I took her to hospital appointments, food shopping and Tescos to buy loungewear. Tiny things to do but apparently a bridge too far for her daughter the gurning Sophie who had rarely taken her out. George admitted she didn’t like the way they pushed her around, in and out of the car. She felt unsafe. ‘They treated me like meat.’
When it was my time to leave she would shake uncontrollably. On her own she was useless. I knew it.
“Protect me from my family.” she asked. I came back. For six months.
During these past few months we have laughed so hard, we’ve eaten at restaurants which is no small feat considering her disability. I wash and blow dry her hair and she calls me Nicky. (Until Sophie ‘borrowed’ the hairdryer.) We unpack the past. I have a notoriously bad memory after my spinal leak. George remembers all the detail my brain erased. She says, ‘do you remember…?’ I often don’t remember, even when she tells the story.
We got into very bad habits, watching bad TV. Game shows in the afternoon. We cooked three meals a day and put on weight. We experimented with Parkinson’s approved diets. I fed her black chocolate and bananas as it was meant to help. We loved eating home made curry and slow cooked shoulder of lamb. We braised oxtail. Porridge every morning unless we fancied greek yogurt and granola.
Parkinson’s doesn’t just affect the body, it affects the brain. A quick google search and a chat with her doctor confirmed the worse: Georgina has stage 4/5 Parkinson’s. Paranoia and terrible anxiety are as much a part of the disease as the uncontrollable shakes. People with Parkinson’s shouldn’t be left on their own. Loneliness is corrosive. When she was certain I wasn’t leaving, even for a short while, she would settle and calm and the less the terrible shaking would grip her. Yet, I also saw her focused and determined when she really wanted something and I was there to facilitate.
At night we kept the door between us open so she could hear me breathing and she would settle into a deep sleep. Sometimes she would panic. Screaming out. A deep roar from a place I did not recognise. Left on her own the unreasonable fears and thoughts would overcome her and she would imagine people breaking into the house, stealing from her cupboards. Occasionally, even when I was with her she couldn’t get comfortable, getting in and out of bed dozens of times. Pulling on the only shoes she trusts. Removing them. Pulling them on again. Frightened she would fall. I would put her back to bed, cover her feet, hold the jug so she could pee, soothe her wet brow. Sometimes at 3 or 4am we would get her off to sleep. I wasn’t always patient at 3am. She would apologise telling me her daughter would accuse her of attention seeking, unable to understand the profuse sweating was her broken internal thermometer, another Parkinson’s horror symptom.
A month or so after I arrived she told me she was worried about money. Knowing how frugal she was I asked how that could possibly be. She said she was totally broke. I didn’t believe her. She owns her house on the beach, had sold the B&B for £600,000 which gave her at least £300,000 to live on after paying the mortgage.
Elders are incredibly vulnerable. Elders with a debilitating disease are more vulnerable. Elders with money and a debilitating disease and greedy children? After a quick look at her bank statements it turned out during the past 5 years of the worst of her Parkinson’s her daughter and son in law Michael Kay had persuaded with her to part with over £350,000 in cash and still owed her £85,000 from the purchase of the B&B. They had defaulted on the promissory notes they had signed. They had made her take out a £50,0000 government bounce back loan. Predicated on a fantasy Covid would get her, that she would die, they thought these interest free loans would vanish, the 1.2 million pound house she lives in would be theirs. Job done.
However, things went tits up for Sophie and Michael Kay.
Georgina didn’t die.
Nor did the gurning, pouting Sophie expect an old friend to turn up in a moment of need. They did not expect the friend to call a lawyer, Age Concern and the elder abuse unit at Maidstone Police Station. They did not expect to get caught.
It latterly turned out a shrewd property investment made by Georgina had also been intercepted and overwhelmed by Michael Kay.
I spent more and more time with George. I was frightened for her life. I wanted her to have a life. More than sitting in her reclining chair looking out of the window. When we weren’t together we would chat for hours on the phone. An hour’s chat before bedtime. Often those conversation were about her children. Sophie ‘had a turn’, Patrick was a terrible son.
For spurious reasons guilty Sophie would storm into George’s house, screaming. A 50 year old woman screaming relentlessly at her frail mother. Even when we locked the door she kicked the door so hard it splintered. Whilst I was there Sophie barricaded her mother into her own bedroom screaming. Always screaming. Blaming anyone/everyone other than herself for her problems.
A violent household on Christmas Day 2021 I saw Michael Kay hit their tiny dog, a big man punching a small dog. Michael Kay was officially warned by Canterbury Police for threatening me.
Mickey and Sophie have a small son, Dexter and Sophie has a 13 year old daughter called Poppy. The heavy set daughter was both bullied and a bully at school. Both Poppy and Sophie have eating disorders. Sophie wants weight loss surgery, she was impressed when meeting my sister Roya who recently had weight loss surgery. We would hide biscuits and other sweet things from Poppy. We stopped buying ice cream. She would eat everything she could lay her hands on.
Yet, whatever Sophie owes Georgina, however they treat her… she forgives them. I suppose that’s what mothers do? Georgina loves her daughter and her granddaughter. Stockholm syndrome.
Alone at the house, George placates herself in the early hours on-line shopping, cardboard boxes and packages arrive from Ebay and Amazon. She lives on a meagre state pension. Rather than returning an unsuitable item she always offers the item to Sophie, who never said no. Nibbling at the very little Georgina has. They never offer to help out with the important things. Only when Patrick demands they pay for a new wheelchair or the security cameras set against the loan repayment. Never did I hear Sophie say, hey… I know you don’t have much I’ll return this gift, you should have the money.
Living in constant fear of her overdraft. This is not how life should be. She worked her ass off. She always had a job. Expected nothing, gave everything. She made excellent business choices, George should be luxuriating in her dotage rather than worrying about every last penny.
Anxiety exacerbates Parkinson’s disease.
If she ever gets the money she is owed by Sophie and Mickey she is determined to send Poppy to a public school but I’m afraid you can’t polish a turd. This may seem harsh but read until the end, dear reader.
For seven months I saw Georgina decline. Paranoia, when anxious. would twist her mind, she was convinced the carers were stealing her makeup. Convinced they were poisoning her food. She would fret a specific bowl or jug had been thrown away. She thought she saw a person stealing a television. She was particularly anxious about my relationship with other women. She was convinced I was having an affair with Patrick’s girlfriend, Caroline. She said, ‘Caroline is my achilles heel.’ Convinced my female friends were not just friends. Most worrying of all she could hear people lingering in the garden. We had security cameras fitted to alleviate her worry. I found the bowl, the jug and the missing ribbons, we found her purse she was sure Sophie had stolen. We located her missing wedding ring.
Eventually I found her a more suitable walker for the home and a new wheelchair powered by a lithium battery for trips into town. Sadly, she only felt safe with me taking her out.
Occasionally she would ask me to marry her. “If anything happens to me, marry me .” I must admit, if it protected her from Sophie, I would have married her but I knew in my heart it was an impossible dream, a dream like the hotels and homes we saw together all those years ago. It would have been a marriage of convenience to suit her immediate needs. I couldn’t do it.
The pressure from her daughter was getting worse. Knowing my service was coming to an end I booked a ticket to Portugal. Promising to come back in a month. A week into my return Georgina called me, she was distraught. Her adored grandchild Poppy had slapped her so hard in the face she saw stars.
Poppy, is a heavy set teen, she has a foul mouth and often called me and her grandmother ‘cunts’.
I was furious. Georgina said the slap reminded her of when Mickey hit their tiny dog. I called Patrick but Georgina, trying to protect Poppy denied it had happened. Then she admitted it was true. Frankly, I didn’t know what to believe until Poppy relented and confirmed it had happened.
She begged me to come back. The following day from Stansted I called to see how she was doing. She told me she had seen compelling evidence from her daughter Sophie I was planning to murder her. Knowing the jig was up, Sophie had persuaded her poor mother her best friend and greatest support was out to kill her. It was enough. I knew I had to get out. I arrived in Whitstable, Patrick picked me up from the station. There is nothing anyone can say or do when dementia sets in. The person you knew is no longer there. I packed up my things and Richard organised a room in the hotel.
When I arrived at George’s house she was sitting in her new wheelchair. She looked terrible. Georgina’s ‘friend’ Pauline Hendy was there. Her friend who wouldn’t believe Sophie and Mickey had taken her money. An ex barrister who in 1993 had worked infamously on the consensual sado-masochistic acts case for the appellants. She is one of those woman who seems to disapprove of strong gay men. Her face looks like a disinterred, freshly unwrapped Egyptian mummy, one colour, no lips, holes where eyes should be. Pauline was determined to defend Sophie. Her smile, a crude slit in old leather. For what reason I have no idea.
I told her to fuck off. It was not Pauline Hendy helping her friend at night. Clearing up the pee. Feeding her. Holding George until the shakes stop. Toweling off her night sweats. Where is Pauline for her friend? Pauline is not a friend. She is a goule.
Georgina called at midnight. She was crying. She said, ‘I was praying. Asking God for one normal day, then I would die.’ She misses walking the dog. Ironing. She misses what life used to be like. Normal.
Yesterday, returning to Faro I felt for my friend, Georgina. It’s hard to reconcile the things people are saying and the disease they have. The disease is speaking. This is not the person I knew.
Thankfully her son Patrick and his girlfriend Caroline can take up the reigns where I left off. They are chasing the money taken by his sister Sophie and her frightful husband Michael Kay. Pat and Caroline are feeding her. Protecting her.
It is not my responsibility. I will remember the fun we had. I will miss the laughter.
Elder abuse is real. It is silent. It is happening to a person you know. It is happening right now.
Here I am. Struck down by covid. In bed most days. Discharged from the hospital two weeks ago. Shovelling Xanax down my throat. The panic was real. I can’t breath! At my worst I couldn’t escape convincing thoughts of suicide. Drawn again and again into a black hole. I must have called out to God a thousand times: Take it! Take these thoughts away from me. I am calling out, literally screaming. People who give me so much joy now haunt me like demons. They are demons.
The intensive Care is on the forth floor. If I jump, it will kill me. I am hallucinating the road half a mile away is in my room. Motor bikes are roaring past. The traffic roaring just beyond the window. I am sitting in the central reservation. The nurse cleans my ass and feeds me. I can’t move.
The doctor insists I take antidepressants. They work. I sleep. I am wearing a cashmere cardigan. But I’m not. I am wearing green cotton hospital pyjamas. I feel good. Even though I can’t walk to the bathroom. Even though my oxygen levels are crashing. Taking antidepressants is like wearing cashmere.
They put me into an ambulance and send me home. The dog is rooming with a friend of a friend. I can’t look after anything except myself. I am plagued with shame because I am convinced illness equals weakness, a moral failing… I am beset with an unshakable humility. I hallucinate balloon animals as real as my bedside table. I speak to my mother for the first time in years and it makes me happy. I am at peace with her. If the worst comes to the worst.
I have lost a great deal of weight even though I gobble up everything I am given. I eat toast all day. I eat huge, local oranges brought to me by my kind Romanian neighbours. I ransack the freezer. I eat everything.
At first I can’t walk to the river. 40 feet from my front door without scuttling back to bed, exhausted. Not breathing killed my maternal grandfather. I sleep with the window open. The cold air in my lungs reassures me. 20 days later I can walk further but the village is locked down so I can’t go far. Most days I don’t pay a price for walking but some days I do. I have to go back to bed for the rest of the day.
I promised myself I would write whatever I could write and publish what ever I wrote. However long. Unedited. As it spewed out of me.
I joined a long covid group as it became apparent amongst my friends who have had this disease, they had it milder and have fewer residual symptoms. They were tired for a couple of weeks and some lost their taste. Now they are up and running.
I was in London to have my brain scan and speak to the surgeon who would have performed the surgery I need in my stomach. London wasn’t locked. I was staying with the assistant of Monet X Change, a drag superstar from Rupaul’s drag race in a swanky residence off Tottenham Court Road. I retraced my steps: I went to the theatre to see Monet’s terrible show in the West End. I walked in the cold rain through Spitalfields with Juliette. Walking to Liverpool Street Station a man ran around the corner and crashed into me. It felt like an act of violence. Avoidable. I wondered if he had infected me. He didn’t look back. He didn’t apologise.
In Barnes I stayed with the parents of a friend of mine. They had covid last month. They were free and clear. I stayed a few days. My friend and I were going to Hereford to see the land. The weather was terrible so we decided not to go. I spent two days in a hotel.
I sat on the back seat of the plane and slept. In the taxi home it hit me. Hit me like the man barrelling around the corner. Total exhaustion and an inability to breath. He carried my suitcase. I slept as best I could. The ambulance took me immediately to the hospital, where I’d stay for ten days.
Since discharge I’ve been medicated. Drugs in my body. Calm and focused. Every day I get stronger but the moment I try too hard I spend the following day in bed.
It is Valentine’s Day 2021. I am mostly normal. Gruff. Thank you for everything. You know who you are.
The IHRA definition of anti-semitism has been weaponised. Adopted by those who scream any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. However, there is no IHRA definition for homophobia. Until there is an official definition… those of us who experience homophobia, casual or direct cannot call out the perpetrators with any assurance.
The reason there is no official definition of homophobia? Because if we ring fenced homophobia like some have ring fenced anti semitism most people would have to address their homophobia… making for a very uncomfortable time. If the definition of homophobia was as stringent as anti-semitism most everybody I know would qualify as a homophobe.
The reality is: There is no escaping from the stain of anti semitism in the Labour Party because the definition is inescapable.
I remain a non-compliant homosexual. Most gay men keep themselves to themselves. They have learned not to complain, they have coupled up in loveless mergers and they tell me I’m making an unnecessary fuss when I warn about the rise of the right and how our lives will be impacted. Tommy Robinson is not our friend. Religious people are not our friends. After the marriage equality win in the USA I cautioned lgbt people not to take their new freedoms for granted. They sneered at my pessimism. 6 years later I am proved sadly correct. Across the USA our rights are being eroded, even marriage equality has been challenged in some states.
I am the ‘other’. The one who will not back down, the one who may lose everything rather than bow to the wishes of the many. The man who would not take it any more. For years I ignored the homophobia I experienced until it became too violent or extreme. Some would say, ‘this isn’t about homophobia, this is about you’. Yet, the two are inextricable. I have been shaped by homophobia and those who attempt to shame me for being gay.
As a small boy I saw those around me hate gay men and I thought to myself: If they hate me for something I cannot change… I’ll give them every reason to hate me. So, I started a war against homophobes at first to protect myself, but as the years past and attitudes changed, I played those bastards for sport. Now, I habitually call out homophobia because it is my duty.
If I had been a gay man who towed the heterosexual line I may not have driven myself insane with casual homophobia. The nasty aside, the glaring look, the guys who violently demanded if I was looking at them, ‘what are you looking at?’ I wouldn’t have bothered reminding straight people at gay clubs how lucky they were to experience the sexual freedom they enjoyed in our lgbt spaces, a freedom I could never enjoy in straight clubs/bars etc. without risking my life
Quentin Crisp perfectly articulated how most gay men learn not to engage with strangers because they are frighted by the prospect of physical violence. Quentin told me in The Naked Civil Servant I should not directly look at anyone. I should not speak unless I am spoken to. Because he knew he risked certain death if he did. However, I refused to obey the rules. I looked at anyone. I told men they were beautiful when they deserved it. I refused to be bowed. I behaved like any other working class men behaved with woman… with men.
Straight people don’t get to tell me what is homophobic. Straight people need to check their privilege and think twice before they speak to me about homophobia. So, it is with some curiosity I now unfold before you a continuing drama at the land in Walford, Herefordshire where we are attempting to get planning permission to park the car. When I first went to Walford I knocked on the doors of the neighbours attempting to introduce myself, some were very friendly, others less so. It didn’t take long for them to google me and decide I wasn’t neighbour material. My gay story of contentious opposition did not suit them.
The man left… I lay in the flickering light of the mute television. I thought about rats, their tails entwined in some gruesome death. A rat king.
A rat king is a mischief of rats whose tails are bound together by one of several possibilities. Entangling material like hair or sticky substances. The number of rats joined together varies from a few to very many. They remain intertwined until death parts them.
The residents of Cherry Tree Lane, Walford came marching as one into the Parish Council meeting at Walford Church last Wednesday. Crippled by resentment these sour hill-dwelling homeowners, their tails entwined like rats, gummed together, furious, emotional. Whipped into a frenzy of hate by our neighbour at Foxwood House, Fran Blackwell. Dragging her gormless husband Andrew behind her. The same husband we threatened a ‘cease and desist’ for haranguing and insulting anyone we employ to work on our land.
Andrew, who rather than enjoying the last of his foggy years, has to act as gate keeper at the end of the lane, defending what little they have. His onerous duty, his frail figure poorly wrapped in the bitter cold. Angular, tall and oblivious as only dementia can render a full grown man.
When we applied for planning… threats followed. I’m used to threats. I’m used to facing the angry mob. The police at early gay pride marches. The demonstration outside the theatre at the gay play. They hate you for speaking up for yourself. They expect you to bow to their heterosexual will. Some of the neighbours on Cherry Tree Lane are no different. So, when they threatened me with a gun… I’m not bowed. When they tie laminated notices on our fence… I laugh. When they put empty bee hives on the land I simply remove them. It’s like being on a tweedy episode of the Jeremy Kyle show.
Now the slut shaming neighbours sit behind me at the council meeting. John Lewis from the ugly 80’s house (ironically called Halcyon Days) his fat red face and waxed jacket fixing me with his best impression of an intimidating stare. He looks like a demented alcoholic. You know the ones… with huge noses. John owns John Lewis Fine Foods, his wife called her neighbours telling them she had no objection to our development, just an objection to me. I am going to report John Lewis to Companies House as unfit to run a company. Andrew Williams from Starry Way, Cherry Tree Lane (before I arrived in Walford) had an appalling reputation on the Hill. Well known as a nasty piece of work… he glances at me but cannot bring himself to look me in the eye. I’m told Andrew works as a state sponsored thug for some governmental GCHQ type organisation. Obviously a candidate for an asbergers diagnosis, Andrew arrives at the meeting looking like a cartoon undertaker. He sits in his over tight black suit and tie, his neck bulging over a soiled white collar. He is accompanied by his smug wife.
Sitting beside pouting Andrew frail, ex-lawyer Phil Watters shakes with rage. His delicate wrists folded into his flaccid lap like an elderly dowager Duchess. Emaciated Phil and his plump, much older wife Pam live in The Rocks which they run as a dank bed and breakfast. You can see the interior of their dreary house on line. It looks like it might be a themed experience? For those who want to stay at a palliative care home. Maybe they keep a priest in their converted pig shed for guests who come to die slowly from either the Watter’s killer decor or their stultifying conversation? Receiving the last rights rather than a full english. Oh… the pig shed. Did the Watter’s get planning approval for their pig shed conversion into holiday accommodation? Or didn’t they?
Then there’s amazonian Janet Shaw-Crabtree (an affected double barrelled name), the red headed wife of Steve Crabtree, who works at the BBC and live in Greystone House, the local ‘big house’. My friend’s aunt once lived in Greystone House when it was called The Eyrie. Janet, really should know better, sitting at the back of the Parish Council meeting recording everything on her pink, rubber comedy phone.
Janet and Steve invited me into their home when I first visited Walford two years ago. Janet, after three large glasses of gin, asked, “Why can’t you live somewhere else?” We left the party prematurely on account of Janet’s halitosis. The kind of halitosis one can smell a yard from her rancid mouth. Maybe she has rotten gums from excessive gin drinking and hair dye?
At the Parish Council meeting angry Fran and Andrew are lost in the melee at the back of the narthex. Smelly Janet and cunty Fran are perfectly happy to have their phone and electricity cables on our land but could not bring themselves to have it re-routed onto theirs. Jan, Fran and Pam: tonight they look like women who are sure they’ve won the war. Knitting gleefully by the guillotine.
Pam Watters is a respected Airbnb super host, tonight with her rat gang she looks less than a gracious doyenne as described in her many Trip Adviser 4 star reviews, instead she sits pinched and puckered by her anorexic husband. My neighbour David Astwood from dreary Killara House is a slim, mouse man who may or may not be gay… sandwiched between Phil and Andrew, his glasses slipping off his tiny snout. I can hear him behind me grooming his whiskers. Like a Beatrix Potter rodent I’ve seen him pottering up the lane on his electric bicycle. Whenever David sees my representatives on the hill he demands to know who they are, tells them lies about me, advises them they shouldn’t work for me and then demands they google me. Well… Google this, David Astwood mouse man.
I look back at their pale, white faces patinated by veins of fury as it dawns upon them their trip to the beautiful medieval Walford church isn’t going to plan. Rather than putting a little effort into researching how the Parish Council meeting actually works or listening to Frank, the leader of the Parish Council, who explains carefully and in detail how the public get to speak at the beginning of the meeting about anything on the agenda. When the time came for public representation the hurd sat mute and incapable.
When it is my turn to speak (I am invited to present the reasons for our planning application) the rats at the back squirm and squawk realising they’d lost their opportunity to have their say. John Lewis… the entitled, fat faced man from Halcyon Days angrily told the leader of the meeting the rules needed changing after he was told to shut up.
“I’ve lived here for 38 years.” John Lewis screams.
“Yes, and my friends have owned this land for 60 years”, I parry.
“Change the rules!” John Lewis demands.
Of course, that’s what entitled people like him…. do. The white middle class change the rules to suit themselves when they are too stupid to do a little basic research. Overcome with white privilege and false courage David Astwood the trembling mouse man timidly calls me a liar. Squeaking from the back, raising his skinny fist.
I am used to dealing with the mob. During the meeting I speak confidently and directly to the council members. Most of them are local land owners, fully aware of the trials of gaining planning permission and more significantly… nibyism. The land owners looked piteously at the serried ranks of home owners come to bully me with their thinly disguised homophobia. The application passed without objection. I looked back at Phil Watters the ex solicitor whose lips had now turned blue with rage and… I smiled. I smiled a big, gay smile.
Scott Low is one of the planning enforcement officers from Hereford County Council. Sadly, he has not remained impartial or correctly informed during his investigation of this simple matter. He has allowed himself to be bullied by forces beyond his control. He has confused and muddied what he himself described when we first met as a simple ‘permitted development’.
Last September I called Hereford Council letting them know I intended stabilising our barn on Cherry Tree Lane and reinstate access. Preempting complaints from the neighbours I wanted written confirmation from the council before I started work. I left several messages and emailed the planning department many times but had no luck reaching the duty planning officer. I left one final message before the contractor turned up, making clear I had tried making contact and I would start work on the barn that afternoon. I let them know I would interpret their silence as a tacit agreement: I would stabilise the barn and reinstate access to the land.
Finally, Adam Lewis the duty planning officer called me and agreed I could get on with what I wanted without any planning approval. I asked him to write to me which he did, giving me permission and making clear what I could and couldn’t do. At no time did he say I needed planning permission to reinstate access to the land. He did not mention ‘permitted development’ nor did he mention I would require planning permission to get onto our land or stabilise the barn.
After work began on Cherry Tree Lane Fran Blackwell and others called Scott Low demanding he stop us from working on our land. Scott appeared on site with a big scowl on his face. He told us to stop work which we did immediately. I was advised to apply for retrospective planning permission so employed planning consultant Bernard Eacock to draw up the appropriate plans and make the appropriate application.
Then it became apparent Scott Low was pressured to make my life as difficult as he could. Scott Low insisted we get an ecological survey then retracted his demand. Scott Low demanded our tree surgeon stop work at the site then admitted he did not have the power to request this. I met with Balfour Beatty whose predecessors had resurfaced Cherry Tree Lane six years ago and begrudgingly accepted responsibility for a step up to our land. Balfour Beatty let me know they had no objection to the work I’d carried out yet somehow Scott Low managed to find a highway objection.
We received 19 objections to our proposed access to the land at Cherry Tree Lane from local residents. All of whom have had at least one planning application passed without any objection and some… like Phil and Pam Watters may not have bothered with a planning application at all and just built what they wanted. In their whiney objections the neighbours complained about traffic… yet the Watters are allowed to run a very busy bed and breakfast increasing traffic on the lane by 50% a week.
Standing on our hardcore with Kevin, the Balfour Beatty site manager, one of the neighbours (he looked like I always imagined Eddy Grundy from The Archers) stopped his filthy car and told me I wasn’t welcome on the lane and I should bugger off. We laughed. “God,” Kevin said, “what do they put in the water up here?”
Hereford Council, colluding with the hysterical residents, did not redact personal or inappropriate remarks from the posted online objections. In effect Hereford Council are colluding with gun toting homophobes.
I left Walford Church and drove back to the hotel in Ross. After a short while in the bar with my friends I lay on a huge white bed. I checked the gay dating apps on my phone and soon had a local man riding me like an eager yearling. Enjoying the sweat and rough kisses of yet another closeted brick layer. I didn’t ask his name, his thick arms and thighs burying me in this new flesh I found, burying me enough to erase the faces of those nimby fools at the Walford Parish Council meeting. Enough to transport me far, far away.
The following day Phil Watters, the frail ex solicitor told his next door neighbour he risked getting hurt if he continued supporting my planning application. The same neigbour was forced off the road by Andrew Williams, made to scramble for his life. He was frightened Andrew would kill his dog. The neighbour lodged a complaint with the police. PC Ashley North from West Mercia Police advised the neighbour, ‘things get heated’ when there are planning disagreements. PC North also investigated the homophobic invective and the threats of gun violence.
I returned last year from the USA with a renewed passion for equality. I was interested to know what it was like for gay people in Whitstable. The town of my birth and formative years. There are plenty of out gay couples and singles in Whitstable, Ed and Scott for instance. The guys who own Fred and Ginger builders who seem single handedly responsible for architect lite additions to ugly semis all over town. Their taste is lamentable and obvious… anyone who owns ubiquitous Tom Dixon lighting needs to think twice about their taste level. I think you know what I mean.
Like many gay men they do ok, because they ‘don’t want trouble’ they want others to challenge the status quo and merely enjoy the consequence of difficult people like me making it better for people like them. So, I started looking for examples of homophobia as and when I experienced them.
a) A young man made an appointment with me who wants to go into the film industry. He cancelled at the last moment. He was warned off because I was gay.
That is homophobia.
b) Zana Gradus, the rich owner of systems technology, is a remarkable women but let’s face it… when she tells me I am the kind of man she wants to meet then looks annoyed and tells me that being gay… is a waste.
That is homophobia.
c) When Nikki Billington the owner of JoJo’s Restaurant (arrested for people smuggling) tells her friends she doesn’t believe I am gay and adds a whole cache of equally vile invective from her homophobic canon including a list of resentments she has carried around for twenty years.
That is homophobia.
d) When Nick Batchelor screams he doesn’t ‘give a fuck’ what people do in bed… when I share my experience of being gay adding, ‘you can fuck animals for all I care.’
That is homophobia.
They ask about my work in the film industry, they ask if if they have ever heard of my films? I tell them I made LGBTQ films for niche audiences. They ask me if I ever make normal films.
That is homophobia.
But of course, Nikki and Zana, Nick and the Bulls Hill neighbours can’t be homophobic because they know gays. Ha! That tired old trope wheeled out to pink-wash ingrained homophobia.
My gay history is their homophobic playground and because I, like all lgbt… have had to construct my own definition of homophobia rather than have the IHRA do it for me… all of the above can get away with what they want. I have called the police but the police are really incapable of doing anything.
White heterosexual privilege is beyond question. Most people don’t mean to be stupid or homophobic, they don’t consider themselves cruel. The majority aren’t… they are simply careless, thoughtless, inconsiderate. Yet, some know exactly what they are doing, they expect to shame, malign and diminish me and get away with it. Don’t get me wrong, people like Ed and Scott the gay builders are just as liable as anyone else. In an environment when people like me pull up people like them, fragile white people have everything to lose. Consequently they coalesce around extreme politics and rise up against anyone not like them.
I can’t imagine things getting any better on Cherry Tree Lane, not any time soon. Perhaps I will indeed end up with a bullet in my head. Let’s see how far they’ll go to protect themselves from the other.
Last Monday, adding to my general health woes, I woke at 2am with a strange and persistent pain in my upper belly. Pains I assumed were something to do with the polyps they removed from my colon during a colonoscopy the previous week or maybe the MRI the day before establishing the size of a tumour on my remaining adrenal gland.
On Monday at 9am I had a meeting in Canterbury with a mental health professional. I left the house in Whitstable at 7.30am. I couldn’t find a way of alleviating the discomfort. I sat on the loo. I sat in the car an hour early for my appointment, pain overwhelming me. I called the NHS help line. I was advised to take paracetamol and call my doctor in a day if things hadn’t improved.
An hour later I was on my back in an ambulance, a morphine drip in my arm. A mid line, not a cannula, they couldn’t find a vein. My blood pressure slumped. Three hours later, after vomiting a pint of yellow bile, I was taken into theatre, the anaesthetic a welcome relief. Not just for the immediate pain but all the pain, anguish and discomfort I had suffered this past year. I sank into the big black and just before I drifted away I thought to myself, perhaps for the first time ever, I wouldn’t mind if I never woke up.
I did not care about anything I previously cared about. I did not care about the welfare of the Little Dog. I did not care about my property. I wanted at that moment to slip away on a gurney in a grim Margate hospital. Margate on my death certificate. That was that.
I woke up in the Cheerful Sparrow, a ward of six men. All of them dishevelled, jaundiced, overweight. The man to my left entertaining a family of obese relatives. His eleven year old daughter the size of a small car. Her young face perched on a ledge of processed lard. To my right, a packet of ochre liquid stapled to his huge belly, a gruff male antagonized an ancient desiccated traveller laying opposite us. Confused by vascular dementia he called out in the night. Calling for long dead relatives. Calling for his dog.
At 5pm the following day Robin arrived in his Range Rover, driving me home to Whitstable. I slipped into his gracious car, black leather and reclining seats, protected from the smell of rotting cabbage Thanet seems unable to shake. Wearing imaginary dark glasses and a velvet wrap, feeling like Grace Kelly after the horrors of the Cheerful Sparrow Ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Margate.
Three days later my possessions arrived from the USA by hauler Bishop’s Move. As one might imagine… this was neither as simple nor as stress free as I wanted. However, it was one step further away from Tivoli NY and for that I am truly grateful. Bishop’s Move have a lot to answer for but we are just beginning to literally and figuratively unpack their disaster.
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This past week, since my body waged war on me, I’ve been shown such kindness from friends I’ve known all my life. Cared for, fed by, driven to, held. I don’t need to remind you but if this had happened in the USA I would have been presented with a huge bill when I left the hospital and then my kindly Tivoli neighbours would have picked the pearls off my decaying body.
Which reminds me of the day my forty-something Tivoli neighbour Christopher Murphy (Village of Tivoli Trustee) fell off his bike directly in front of my house whilst performing stunts for his adolescent sons. Falling badly onto boiling hot tarmac where he lay until I found him. His hatred of gay people (or me) so profound he would not let me help him off the hot street. Schadenfreude prevailed. I looked down at him squirming like an injured possum until his equally sour wife arrived to help his sorry ass.
Lucy Ferry killed herself. A shot-gun in an Irish village. Her ‘beloved’ dogs present. Her death opening the door to a whole world of grief. In drawing rooms all over London, Palladian homes in the West Country, cottages in Norfolk… pearls were clutched, brows furrowed.
The moment I heard the terrible news I called Simon Finch. We gasped in horror. Oh no. No. There was nothing more to say. Lucy Ferry/Birley née Helmore was dead.
I met Lucy with Isabella Blow. Mischievous Isabella, she’d say, “Lucy only married Bryan to save the Helmore family house.” By the time I met Lucy she was already separated from Bryan. We had tea often at that saved Kensington home. A short walk from where I lived on Adam and Eve Mews. “Oh, hello.” She looked a little confused. As if my visit had slipped her mind, as if life were happening to her rather than being fully present. That sweet smile.
Sometimes the younger of her four boys were in the house, rattling around upstairs, but we sat on our own. She didn’t have to be Lucy Ferry with me. She was just another addict talking it through. Another bozo on the bus… as they used to say at AA/NA meetings in Hudson NY. Just one addict helping another, working the steps. Even so, she was never a great believer in God… but I bet she called out for him just before she pulled the trigger.
We had dinner at Floriana on Beauchamp Place, pretending to be a couple, mainly her idea to annoy Bryan. Hosted by Tatler, 19 Mar 2003. The Evening Standard wrote a vile and libellous take down of yours truly after the prank. Gratifyingly, the writer of the piece (Deborah Orr told me) died painfully and suddenly a few months later. I wasn’t moved by his death, nobody remembers his name… as people remember and are moved by Lucy.
Isabella read the piece in the Standard, refusing to understand the humour. She summoned me to Prada on Bond St. I met her in the dressing room, pulling a jewelled frock over flesh-colored, boned underwear. She screamed, “What were you thinking? Lucy would never have a relationship with someone like YOU!”
“Issy! You were there. You knew it was a prank!”
“It wasn’t very funny.” She gasped as the sales associate zipped her into the gown.
The dinner at Floriana was thrown for Lee McQueen. Michael Portillo and Isabella Blow sat either side of me. Prince Michael of Greece opposite. Lucy was setting me up with Lee but we weren’t interested. We were interested in Lucy. If only gay boys had Lucy’s charm and spunk. 4 years later Isabella would drink poison and die, a year after that… Lee would hang himself.
This week Bella Freud, Jasper Conran, Patrick Kinmonth amongst so many others posted sad obituaries on Instagram. Conran, a picture of Lucy from his wedding. Kinmonth, a tiny dead bird by Craigie Aitchison. All of them wailing plaintively about their friend Lucy.
Why didn’t she call? Why was she on her own? Where were her friends? Her husband and children? Was she going to meetings? Did she have people who could help her live, make the decision to live? Obviously not.
Every addict wants to die sooner than God planned. It is a decision none want taking from us. The needle in the arm, the bottom of the glass, the cold gun.
Hamish Bowles’ piece in Vogue was mawkish and badly written. Painting pretty Lucy shaped pictures of a woman Hamish scarcely understood other than her frocks, hats and shoes. Of course, he didn’t ask why? Nobody is asking why. Is that too impertinent when you expect someone you know well to grow old? She would have made a very, very grand old lady. Rasping, funny and chic.
It’s a bit late, posting pretty black and white pictures of her on social media, Hamish.
Two weeks ago I managed to track her down. She was a little frosty, we hadn’t spoken for years. She asked if I was sober. We giggled about her brother Ed living it large at The Chateau Marmont in LA where I last saw him. We recalled the Floriana scam and the subsequent outrage. She wanted to know if I was in love. I told her about Jake and our disastrous relationship… I told her how overwhelming love can be. Crippling. I asked about her husband. There was a long, painful silence. She suddenly seemed wistful and bored. We made tentative plans to meet when she returned from her doomed vacation.
She wondered if I had ever received the green fur hat. Of course I had. Apparently, she had never received my written thanks.
Did she stop believing? Run out of dreams? Her children, dogs and husband could not convince her life was worth living. Did she stop loving dressing up, entertaining, preparing lavish dinners, being center of attention? Perhaps she saw the folly of her ways? Couldn’t align her feelings with the facts? Maybe she was drinking and convinced herself suicide a glamorous conclusion? God only knows.
I have lost more friends/acquaintances to suicide than any other disease these past 50 years. Suicide. Touching the lives of almost everyone I know. He lay on the tracks, he loaded the syringe, he hung himself from the banister, she jumped from the bridge, she blew her brains out in Ireland. They found him dead in the car park, Boxing Day. He was badly decomposed. He stole pills from the hospital. I knew all these people.
Yesterday I met Rosie Duffield, the MP for Canterbury and Whitstable. She was half an hour late for our appointment. Her train was late. The taxi wasn’t where they expected it to be. She runs into the meeting berating the train and the tube. Rosie is a slight, blond woman who, against all the odds beat long time conservative MP Julian Brazier with a slim 186 majority in a constituency that never had a Labour MP since voting began.
I congratulated her, “You must be very grateful to Jeremy Corbyn,” I said.
Rosie smiled, she seemed baffled when people told her on the stump they were voting for Jeremy and not her. “I heard that all the time,” she said. I pressed her to admit it was Jeremy who had energised the Labour vote in a traditionally conservative area but she was reluctant to agree Jeremy Corbyn was the reason she had her seat in parliament. I asked her if she was a ‘blairite’, she replied candidly, “I owe everything to Tony Blair.”
She whispered conspiratorially, “Jeremy’s nearly 70, you know.” As if telling a 58-year-old it’s all over for someone who is 69, all over for Jeremy Corbyn. I was beginning to understand who Rosie Duffield is and where her allegiances lay. I looked carefully into her eyes. “We need someone younger.” she says.
I wanted to meet Rosie Duffield to find out if she was adequately representing her LGBT constituents. So, I started our meeting by asking Rosie if she had ever heard of Rudolf Brazda. She hadn’t. Rudolf, the last holocaust survivor to wear a pink triangle, held at Buchenwald. I asked if she knew what a pink triangle signified. She nodded her head cautiously as if she were searching for a memory. I explained who Rudolf was and how his and other LGBT inmates were remembered in oral histories archived at the New York Holocaust museum.
Their stories are desperate, they tell how badly they were treated by both inmates and guards. Beaten, murdered by guards and inmates. Treated like pedophiles are treated in prisons today. I told her how, when the camps were liberated, the gay men were not set free but taken to prison by British and American liberators. These gay men, I reminded her, are my family of origin. Murdered in the concentration camps by both nazis and fellow inmates.
Rosie shifts in her seat uncomfortably.
I let her know my own history of dealing with homophobia in Whitstable, the daubing of homophobic slurs on my house, bricks through the windows and more recently being verbally assaulted by a homophobic public house land lady. Rosie seemed genuinely pained by my description. Rosie and her manager offered to speak to Jonathan Neame about the homophobia in his pubs. I accepted their offer graciously.
I wondered what Rosie Duffield’s definition of homophobia was? She mumbled she didn’t have one. I wondered why? Why hadn’t The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defined homophobia like they defined anti-Semitism? After all, we were there too. We… the LGBT community stood behind those terrible chain link fences walking with the dead and dying. Where was our definition of homophobia? A definition the party could work with?
Religion is a choice, sexuality is not.
I asked her if she thought Jeremy Corbyn was anti semitic and a racist.
Rosie wanted me to know her fiancé is black, that she couldn’t possibly understand what it is like to be black, gay or jewish. She had to accept as the truth from her jewish friends if they were convinced Jeremy was anti-Semitic… she had no option but to believe them. I asked if she was ’empathetically challenged’? She became angry and told me she would ask me to leave if I spoke to her like that. She told me I was being rude.
“You mean… rude like Margaret Hodge was to Jeremy Corbyn?” Rosie told me she was a ‘Very good friend of Margaret Hodge’. I asked Rosie if I had called her a fucking homophobe would she ask me to leave the office. She told me Margaret Hodge had every right to shout at Jeremy because she was a jewish woman who had lost family in the holocaust.
I reminded her again. My family of origin also perished in the holocaust. Gay men without children, abandoned by their family for being gay. Who could possibly claim these men (sex perverts) as their relatives? It is incumbent upon men like me, willing to claim men like Rudolf as my own family, wrought from the history of lgbt oppression.
I asked again, “Where is the IHRA definition of homophobia?”
The definition of Anti Semitism has become the stick by which people like Margaret Hodge and her friend Rosie Duffield beat Jeremy Corbyn. Yet, as a gay man, when I want answers about her understanding of homophobia Rosie tells me her definition of homophobia is ‘common sense’.
Religion is a choice. Sexuality is not.
Rosie stumbled into admitting she was Roman Catholic. “A church riven by homophobia,” I say. “Religious people are not my friends Rosie, they have delivered a history of violent rebuke against LGBT people. Refusing to recognise our most basic human rights.” What are you going to do about the pockets of homophobia in the Anglican Church? You are, after all, the MP who represents the Archbishop of Canterbury?
Religious people are not our friends. Jews. Christians. Muslims. There are still passages in the Torah, Bible and Koran demanding death for practicing gay men. Why haven’t these passages been removed? When will Jews, Christians and Muslims remove passages from the Torah Bible and Koran that incite violence toward LGBT people? Legitimizing LGBT intolerance? When would she call for homophobia to be erased in all religions.
Rosie looked aghast.
The problem with Rosie? She’s a delightful, simple person. Her politics are scarcely evolved. Rosie isn’t ‘woke’. She probably didn’t expect to win her seat. Her understanding of her LGBT constituents is scant. It’s not her fault, she doesn’t ‘get’ how important historically the Labour Party was to LGBT people during the hostile 1960’s – 1980’s because she can’t imagine walking a mile in our shoes.
The meeting ended. A nervous looking latino man waiting in the lobby wanted to talk about Brexit. He was sitting with his daughter. I set off into the searing heat.
On the way home to Whitstable I felt shaken and slightly bullied. I’d experienced only a fraction of what is currently tearing at the heart of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Rosie is our existential threat. She exemplifies how Tony Blair snatched control from working people and handed power to a few entitled white folk.
Rosie has an agenda shared by many of her Blairite colleagues: to unseat Jeremy Corbyn. For those of us who believe passionately in Corbyn’s inclusive vision for our country it was inconsiderate of her to say she had no clue what the lives of gay, black or jewish people could be because she wasn’t black, jewish or gay.
I wondered how Rosie could possibly see past her white, christian heterosexuality to represent any minority? Me? The anxious latino man? The truth is, Rosie is not motivated to represent her constituents. Rosie is not interested in the lives of her constituents. Rosie is obsessed with regime change. She spends her time berating and bullying Jeremy Corbyn. She has no interest in me or indeed real instances of homophobia she is instead obsessed with politicised examples of anti-Semitism.
In 40 years I had never bothered to meet my Member of Parliament, then Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of The Labour Party. Even though I voted for Thatcher in ’78 and Blair in 1997 I never joined a political party. I have since joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party is the biggest political party in Europe because of Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour Party needs MP’s who represent not only its 800,000 voting members but the millions of disaffected Britons who believe in radical change… sadly, for the constituents of Whitstable and Canterbury Rosie Duffield isn’t one of them.