IN THE SNOW
who despise humanity in general and men in particular, am somewhat
surprised to discover, at the age of 71, that I despise the latter
less and treat them with more respect than they do - not just
me, but, I suspect - each other.
I started out
in the freshly-fallen snow, driving
the few miles to the nearest station. This enormous 19th century
structure was built to serve what is little more than a hamlet
with an enormous disused quarry, now a vast landfill site. One
of the lines that it served - to Montauban, 'county town' of the
south-western département of the Tarn-et-Garonne
- was closed in the 1950s and is now a very beautiful and unfrequented
road which passes through the few miles of dramatic limestone
gorges carved out over the millennia by the river Aveyron. The
name of this river, like the English Avons, contains the Celtic
word-element for 'water', which, in its Q-Celtic form, passed
into Latin as 'aqua'.
single-line between Toulouse and Aurillac in southern Auvergne,
has not been closed. Indeed, it has recently been re-laid in parts,
though some of the stations have been converted to halts - including
the imposing structure at Lexos - a historic building, now dubbed
the Gare-Fantôme, without any conceivable other function
than a closed railway-station - or a marvellous location for a
happening or a rave.
little, very modern, train arrived dead on time, and I found myself
a cosy seat in the warm interior, gazing out at the beautiful
landscape now transformed by snow into something much less banal
than a giant Christmas card. This ancient province of Rouergue
consists largely of wooded foldy-woldy landscape cut by rivers
and interspersed with farmland.
the electronic ribbon above the door of the compartment announced
that the train was going to Capdenac, which is a railway-junction
on the way to Aurillac. According to the timetable, the train
went right through to Aurillac.
whole journey from Toulouse to Aurillac is uphill, so the train
travelled at a leisurely pace (less than 70 kph) through the magical
sunlit landscape of freshly-fallen snow, passing Laguépie,
Najac ('un des plus beaux villages de France', memorably
described in the 1930s (when it was one of the most deprived villages
in France) by Jan and Cora Gordon in one of their "Two
Vagabonds in..." series. They changed its name to Janac,
and lived there for at least six months. It was a village plagued
by rickets, tuberculosis, diphtheria, most of whose inhabitants
lived above their animals, mostly on potatoes and swedes (rutabagas).
Now, you would not guess it had a past of grinding poverty, infection
and misery: it is indeed one of the most beautiful villages in
to the handsome market town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue, of surprisingly
northern atmosphere, and reminding me of Dinant on the Meuse in
southern Belgium, but without that town's striking cliff. Here
the train left the valley of the Aveyron, heading north through
more beautiful snow-covered landscape towards Capdenac-Gare and
Figeac, the latter another very mediæval beautiful town
on the river Lot. (It has a fine Romanesque
corbel above the interior of a doorway in the old abbey-church
As the train pulled into Capdenac station a woman sitting across
the aisle from me told me I should change trains. So off I hopped,
moving towards another train on the other side of the platform.
I asked a railwayman with a whistle if this was the train to Aurillac,
and he said Yes, so I hopped on. After a few seconds I realised
that this train was not going in a north-easterly direction to
Aurillac, but to Brive, a rail junction over 50 miles to the north-west.
I hopped off again, puzzled...and saw my original train leaving
the platform for Aurillac. So motivated bv a misleading electronic
ribbon and completely-wrong advice from a fellow-passenger, I
was now stuck in a station on a line with infrequent service to
was a quarter to four in the afternoon. The next train to Aurillac
was at a quarter to nine. I was to be met by my gay friend.
Jean-Michel, at Aurillac station. I phoned his home number - and
got a message saying that the number was unobtainable.
I went to the ticket office and asked the nice lady there if she
had a phone-book for the département of the Cantal.
People in public service are amazingly helpful in France - so
she rooted about and found that she didn't. But, she said, she
could look up the White Pages on the internet for me - which she
did. I had copied down the number with an erroneous digit. I thanked
her profusely, and rang the correct number. He was out - presumably
buying provisions on the way to the station. I left a message
explaining my predicament, and said that I would now try to hitch-hike
out of Capdenac-Gare and get to nearby Figeac, from which a main
road led to Aurillac. It was a beautiful afternoon, quite warm
and sparkly in the sun.
France (alongwith Sweden and Finland) is one of the worst countries
in the world in which to try and hitch-hike. (The island of Ireland
is still one of the best.) The motto of the French Republic, notoriously,
is not Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,
(fraternity is the last thing that the French feel for each other)
- but Chacun Pour Soi. No French person would dream of
picking up a piece of litter in the street, or do anything spontaneously
for the 'common good'. For the Common Good there are always Associations
and Societies. And for everything. Even to show at an open exhibition
in the town hall you have to be a member of an artists' association.
But I am not complaining. This is one of the few drawbacks in
a country that I love, with whose south-western inhabitants I
have great rapport. One of the beauties of it is that there is
almost no litter in the streets and roads in rural areas.
alas! is one of the most difficult towns to walk out of. Situated
in a gorge, the road to Figeac climbs and zig-zags - through tunnels!
I walked about a kilometre carrying a bag which contained not
only a special bottle of wine (Mourvèdre, which has more
than a hint of sweaty balls about its 'mouth'), a camera (which
I never used), a book (in case I was stranded or taken hostage),
and a home-baked Simnel cake for my host, but - inserted at the
last moment - my laptop as well.
included were some special no-tobacco joints provided by a lovely
bearded, unemployable, marijuana-growing 'welfare-scrounger' with
delightful dog (see picture below, taken in my kitchen in Saint-Antonin)
with whom I once had dreary sex, since all he wanted was to be
'sucked off' and worshipped. These, and a couple of CDs of sensual,
flowy music (David Parsons et alii) to enhance the already
quite good ambiance and (I hoped) reduce the phallocentricity
of the envisaged occasion(s).
had been in a similar position once before, when I arrived by
train in Toulouse to find that all other trains were cancelled
due to a strike. I had just 2 hours to get to Carcassonne airport
(1 hour away) for a flight to Dublin. After some cogitation and
walking up and down, I took a taxi to the motorway and stood with
my thumb out - in the rain - just beyond the Toll Plaza. This
is illegal. Miraculously, within five minutes, a woman pulled
up. She was a soldier and was heading for Limoux (where the venerable
comes from), not far to the south of Carcassonne. While we drove,
she got on her mobile phone (this too is illegal while driving)
and arranged for a taxi to pick me up in Limoux ) and get me to
Carcassonne airport - which it did with 20 minutes to spare. Taxis
cost me nearly 50 euros, the price of the flight to Ireland -
but almost certainly saved me a lot more money I would have had
to shell out to re-book my flight and either travel back to Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val
or stay in a hotel in Carcassonne for two nights.
Capdenac station I should have called a taxi to take me to the
Aurillac road out of Figeac which is only seven minutes away by
train. I might have been able to hitch to Aurillac, or my friend
might have driven for half an hour to collect me. But I had forgotten
that Capdenac was in a gorge. As you get older, your presence
of mind (in my case extremely nebulous to begin with) fades.
walked until I found a spot where a car could see me from a distance
and pull in. But most of the traffic was in clusters, often behind
juggernauts, so there was little chance of anyone -even someone
of good-will - stopping on the incline. I phoned my host again...and
left another message. After about 40 minutes I walked back downhill
- in the gloaming - to the station.
the time I got there, Jean-Michel had at last returned home after
failing to find me at the station. He had never given me his cellphone
number - perhaps because, like me, he might use one only in emergencies
and while travelling. I told him I could get to Figeac easily
enough by taxi, and could he possibly pick me up ? But no, there
was no way he was going to take his car (on the main, if winding,
road) to Figeac 'in icy conditions', which would make it a sixty-minute
journey. It was not so much his refusal which got to me as his
lack of sympathy and inability to offer any soothing words or
suggestion (however impractical) to save the situation.
the main roads were completely clear - as they usually are when
snowfall is light. I had driven on a much more minor one earlier
in the day without the slightest problem.
cut the call and made a decision. I would abandon the plans for
a cuddly-licky-sexy-nuzzly couple of days - for which I had even
cut my nails and hair, changed all my clothes and anointed myself
with fennel-oil. I had not showered, because I do that only three
or four times a year, and in any case Jean-Michel had a luxurious
bathroom. I decided to take the next train back to Lexos. At this
point I realised that my watch was half an hour slow.
Landscape by Malcolm Walker
is strange how certain places seem ominous. Over thirty years
ago I had got "bad vibes" in the Pyrenean Aragonese
town of Jaca. Last year I had a run-in with scary traffic police
and am currently awaiting deportation (under a scandalous EU agreement
- itself a good reason for disbanding the Union) for insulting
servants of the Spanish Crown. I called them fascists, a term
which could not be insulting to them since their badge and insignia
feature the notorious Fasces,
adopted by Mussolini as his party's insignia after the Roman lictors'
phallic emblem of Control, and from which Mussolini's political/paramilitary
party took its name.
have driven through Capdenac a few times and always got "a
bad feel" from it. Was this premonitory ? Should I henceforth
avoid revisiting all places with bad vibes ? This could curtail
my movements - but then I'm becoming more sedentary as I get older.
adjusted my watch, I found that I had about an hour to wait for
the next train (delayed 20 minutes) back to Lexos. Plenty of time
for a piss and a cigar behind a bush, a surprisingly-good cup
of coffee from a machine, and some reflection on what this trip
had "told me", for I am of the belief that any experience
can be a lesson - from a Strindberg play on the radio to bad sex
with a Hygiene Queen - and some should definitely be taken as
I reflected on my life since I was 39, when, visiting the amazing
1980 Salvador Dalí exhibition, I met a guy in a tiny and
crowded urinal in Paris' Centre Pompidou known to Parisians
as Le Beaubourg, and decided that I was not a dog-lover
of undecided sexuality, but 'gay' - and came out of an
imaginary closet quite dramatically. It was something of a shock
to my mother and her sister, but they adapted very well, as they
had adapted to many other shocks, including running away from
suffocating Campbell College with its bullying and largely incompetent
teachers, my dropping out of universities (this was in the days
before the cheap abbreviation uni became current) THREE
TIMES, and my imprisonment for shoplifting groceries. Here
is a picture of the Mexican-American who woke me up - taken recently...he
must be in his mid-sixties.
changed his return ticket from Paris to the USA at very little
cost (which I gratefully paid), and went back with me to Ireland,
where we spent a beautiful week.
life changed in that I started serious cruising, taking off to
London and Paris every few months in order to find someone who
would further change my life. Perhaps I thought I was on a ladder,
like the medieval vision of the Stairway
to Heaven. The freak Beaubourg encounter woke me up (almost
literally: in Jungian terms, I belong to the 'Sleeping Beauty'
group) to the fact that I was strongly attracted to men with beards
and body-hair. I had never encountered any beards or body-hair
in my fatherless home...but there was a photograph of Charles
Dickens on a wall. I had chased little girls into the school toilets
hoping to pull down their knickers when I was a child (this would
now be a Serious Offence), but never little boys - though I do
remember pissing competitions. My first 'true-love' (when I was
20) was a Danish woman, for whom I was (it took me 50 years to
work out) unsuited, naive and immature. But she had woken me up
from an earlier sleep. This 'Sleeping Beauty' is an onion with
layers of dormition.
was while I was living (briefly) in Denmark that this first love
put me in touch with my nipples as extremely erogenous zones.
Since then I have discovered my feet, the back of my neck, my
whole back, my palms and inner arms...
queer land was new-found a couple of years before HIV struck Europe.
I went to discos (which I had never done before) and gay
bars, pubs, and the legendary Sauna Continental Opéra
in Paris, an underground labyrinth which piped classical music
through its system, had a snack-bar and a swimming-pool, and wonderful
unlit areas where amazing orgies took place, enacted by people
who probably would have ignored each other or run away in daylight.
I picked men up easily, but few were sensually very forthcoming,
and even less were they attractive as human beings. Now, over
30 years later, I was still on the hunt...for what ? Romance!
not just romance. I suspect that my philosophical bent made me
a latter-day Diogenes,
looking for an honest soul for a mate. But when I found him, I
still went on looking! Searching and cruising can be equally addictive.
may be no accident that I discovered Brahms' chamber-music at
the same time as I came out. I fantasise to this day about the
blessed Johannes as a father - or a brother. Even a Dutch Uncle
would be fine! Or second cousin, second remove... The sublime
love-making of his Double Concerto and the exquisite orgy of his
first Sextet - like Franck's Piano Quintet, which his wife called
'pornographic' - have been an inspiration in my search for Romantic
twenty years ago I met my 'soul-mate', a man I met in a sexual
context which fairly quickly petered out as we got to know each
other. He too has had little sub-erotic adventures, but nothing
like the number I have had - brief flings, all of them - and none
of them sensually or erotically worth writing about. He. too,
had been a "problem child". But whereas I jumped off
the conveyor-belt of the system as soon as I could, Malcolm, assumed
to be some sort of 'retard', was never was allowed to get on it.
online came with the arrival of the World-wide Web, but before
that I had used contact ads in magazines, as well as physically-real
means such as bars, pubs and (decreasingly, as they vanished)
cruisy toilets, dubbed cottages in English and tasses
or vespasiennes in French. One of my heroes, Jean Genet,
had frequented them. How marvellous it would have been to meet
Genet - or Foucault - in one of those pierced-metal urinals that
the prudish ultra-Catholic Madame de Gaulle did away with! (Note
to self and Will: If prison was 'home' to Saint-Jean Genet-des-Fleurs,
it is far too good for 'gays'.)
guess I was really seeking Romance (I had read all of Dumas, from
The Count of Monte Cristo to Louise de la Vallière
by the time I was 15 - maybe this was a mistake. I did not like
Dickens, except for his allegedly worst novel A Tale of Two
Cities. I am Schiller's naive and sentimental lover - and
have almost always had to make do with bad sex.
went on blind dates, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles. Well-bronzed
Jean-Michel in Aurillac, who holidayed on Réunion Island,
Guadeloupe, etc. - I said he was my friend, but I had met him
only once before, on a blind date, making the journey by car,
and visiting some megaliths
on the way. He was very pleasant indeed, fed me well, and was
an excellent host for a couple of days in early summer. His flat
was large, airy and modern (i.e. without a fireplace), overlooking
the river Jordanne. The sensual rapport wasn't great, because,
like most men, he was too rough, and too genital - and resorted
to amyl nitrite, a vasco-dilating heart-stimulant vulgarly known
as poppers, because the vaporous liquid was originally
packaged in little glass ampoules which were popped open. It gives
me bad headaches and a horrible dissociative awareness: in fact,
the effects are opposite to those of cannabis or MDMA.
have written elsewhere on this website about the gross error that
men make regarding 'sex'. They think it is phallic mechanics.
And to an extent it is, but only to an extent. I have a very sensitive
body, and the lightest touch can produce ecstasy. Most men are
hopeless at cocksucking: they hurt! I don't like having my nipples
mauled: a feather or a fingertip is fine by me. I am not so interested
in mere ejaculation, I can do that 'in the comfort of my own home'.
For me, with another person, what is in our primitive culture
dismissed as 'foreplay' is what it's about. Men confuse ejaculation
with orgasm: they are not necessarily the same thing.
I have discussed this on another
of my many brief lovers was a student of shiatsu, a Japanese
massage therapy which I loved. Mutual massage (including tongue-massage,
of course) with a bearded hairy man is heavenly for me - but this
chap from Dublin was just one of a handful of men I have met who
had come out of the claustrophobic and drab sex closet into the
ballroom of sensuality. But my problem has been that if I meet
a man I relate to sensually, I don't relate to him with my head.
And if I meet a man whom I get along with very well, he is lacking
in sensuality and unable to comprehend that less is more.
I reflected in the cosy railway waiting-room. I had made yet another
less-than-rewarding rendezvous and journey. How many had I made
over the years ? To the forbidding Montagne Noire in the snow
to meet a guy who turned out to be a very unpleasant (and very
rich) Leather Queen. To Berlin to meet a guy who hadn't told his
boyfriend I was coming. To Dublin to meet a very sweet guy with
cerebral palsy who wanted to be treated roughly rather than with
tenderness. To Whitby where a man who fantasised about orgies
had assembled five or six pretty incompatible players.
a remote-ish Tuscan shepherd's hut (via cheap flight from Belfast
to Pisa) where I was asked to tattoo a man's cock with a single
needle and Pelikan ink. The apparent owner of the organ
had, I subsequently discovered, a trunk-full of his own shit under
the bed that we both slept in. His sado-maso friend was very high
up in the Benedictine order, with a flat in the Vatican. What
I tattooed -in the original
Greek - just below his circumcision scar was the most succinct
motto of all time: GNOTHI SEAUTON-
carved somewhere in or on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo
at Delphi. Which sybilline advice, being translated, means:
You cannot know anything until you know yourself.
the flat of a beautiful Turk who immediately asked me to fist-fuck
him.: a medical experience which I do not wish to describe or
many times had I been stood up, or been taken to flats more squalid
than pissotières, with greasy carpets, Beckettian
kitchens and Malone Dies bedclothes! Once to a grand town-house
in Paris' Marais (just as the area was being taken over by the
vapid homosexual demi-monde) whose pillared main room was as big
as a ballroom.
came to me and were likewise disappointed. One came from Canada
after a wonderful and protracted correspondence. We hated each
other on sight, and he left the next day for Dublin. Then there
was the Visit from
the wily Angelos Petroutsas, self-styled Prince of Poverty,
for which I ended up paying the air-fares from Athens to Dublin
- and back to Athens in a hurry.
have been invited to dinner - and had to cook it myself. I have
been invited to dinner, brought along a good bottle of Château
Talbot - only to be presented with a tasteless ready-meal from
a freezer - or...wait for it.., muesli!
I have been invited to Bali ! But never to rural Iran, where I
would love to go, simply for the food and the music.
knows what those freaks thought of the freak who is writing this!
that railway-station I finally pulled myself together. I would
do this no more. I am not homosexual in the 'gay' sense.
I find bearded men physically and emotionally exciting - but surely
enough is enough. My idea of a union of minds and bodies is more
like that of Rumi and Shams-i-Tabriz than a Gay Marriage
- and, indeed, my twenty year relationship with Malcolm is close
to that philadelphic model. Why have I been wanting to ice his
cake, so to speak ?
(He bakes a mean Simnel cake...)
It's not as if I wanted what most phallocentric people now assume
is Gay Sex, i.e. anal penetration. That has never appealed to
me. Although direct massage of the prostate through the arsehole
can be delicious, I have always been worried about shit. The arsehole
is a shit-hole and best treated with caution, especially where
mouths are involved.
Freud had one or two excellent insights, they were fairly superficial
and obvious - and did not include his ridiculous dipus-fantasy.
(He would have done well to take the Delphic Oracle more seriously.)
Jung, to my mind, was much subtler and deeper and wider in his
intelligence. I like Jung's notion that homosexual men are, mostly,
trapped in a stage of sexuality which reflects a stage of emotional
development. I have noticed that most gay men I have met
are stuck at an emotional age of eight, or twelve, or fifteen.
Naturally, I can't quite place myself. I think I have a sexual
age of about four, because I enjoy the sheer playfulness of sex
and am not interested in the 'goal', so to speak. But my emotional
age I am unable to gauge, because I am very mature ("an old
soul") in some ways, and delightfully (?) childish in others.
I guess that my "inner little boy" has been searching
all his life for another little boy, who of course is always more
or less coeval. This largely explains my difficulty in relating
to men. especially men in groups..
I resolved to remove myself from the gay 'bear' and 'daddy'
cruising-sites. I should have done so many years ago. I would
have saved myself a lot of money and a lot of disappointment.
I might even have matured beyond the sexual stage in which I was
very morning - as Malcolm was travelling to Paris to stay two
nights -I had received a message from a gay friend in Paris
(a nice guy with whom I had never had any kind of sexual or sensual
involvement) saying that he was feeling stressed and didn't want
either of us to visit more than for one night on our separate
journeys back to Ireland via Paris. This was ironic, since the
two of us had Couchsurfed for three nights in Spain the previous
October, and he had Couchsurfed across the USA in the summer.
had made the arrangement in October to stay three nights. So I
had had to change my rail ticket at this late point, and of course
the seats were now more expensive. On the other hand, this was
more than compensated for by not having two days to spend money
in Paris. I decided I simply wouldn't visit my Paris friend, neither
the following week nor ever. Malcolm would be merely tolerated,
unaware of the e-mail I had received. The friend in question had
been driving the car from Jaca to the French border after four
days in Upper Aragón, when the Royal Hispanic Fascistas
pulled us in and issued a spot fine of €100 because I, the
passenger, had not attached my seat-belt. So we had a significant
two events of the day made me realise that I had had enough of
unreliable men. How many times had I fetched people from airports,
brought them back, given them scenic and megalithic tours, paid
for air-fares ? Dozens! Now here I was, seventy-one years old,
having failed to hitch-hike out of Capdenac, and my younger host
refusing to come and pick me up or offer a helpful suggestion.
Seventy-one years old, having enjoyed only two or three sensual
relationships in that time - the best one with a teaching-woman
with delightfully-small breasts.
Jean-Michel couldn't (or could no longer) drive, and was ashamed
to say so. People are amazingly unforthcoming about what they
think might be a defect. I have no problem about declaring my
hearing loss and cataracts, my Benign Nocturnal Polyuria,
and my inability to kick a football in the direction intended.
train-journey back to Lexos was through the night, nothing to
see beyond the window but the occasional station platform. We
passed Najac in the dark, with its wonderful, still-inhabited
13th century castle, built by a count of Toulouse-and-Rouergue
on a lofty crag above the river, unglimpsed. This castle stands
in contrast to the ruins (also on crags) of castles destroyed
by the land-grabbing Northern Catholics during the horrible 'Albigensian
Crusade'. Some of them went on to "reconquer" Spain
from the Moors, grab land, and enslave peasants there. They became
drove from Lexos station the few starry miles to Saint-Antonin.
The little-used road with glinting verges was perfectly navigable.
I boiled pink potatoes and ate them with soft St-Félicien
cheese and a mixed (locally-grown, of course, and utterly-delicious)
salad. I opened a bottle of nice cold champagney Saumur. Then
I went to the computer.
was an e-mail from my would-have-been host saying that he had
tried to call me back on my cell-phone. I had spelled out the
number in my last message to him, but either he was lying or he
chose not hear the 00-44 at the beginning, indicating that it
was a UK number. (Being French, and rich, he may have balked at
the extra cost of calling.)
then removed myself from the gay contact sites. I had been
far too long - thirty foolish years - on my single, circular,
addictive and false track. It had taken a casual piece of mistaken
advice on a train to bring me to my senses. A wrong instruction
in any context can change - or indeed, in adverse circumstances,
can cost you - your life.
sending him a draft of this my non-gay but polymorphously-perverse
friend Stuart wrote back, echoing Sophocles::
A conscious decision to be celibate does wonders for the psyche....
you are better off alone and masturbating
than to be in a situation with someone you do not care for.
Oh, the joy and luxury of well-planned masturbation, with flowy
sound and carefully-chosen
read the very