I had to tell my old Etonian friend, Oli, to delete his comment of 'gay' from the above Facebook photo. 'Try and remember that you're evolved,' I messaged him. Which reminded me of summers in Aldeburgh when Kitty Brownlow would send homophobic pig farmers to talk to me in the Cross Keyes.
Jeremy was in his early twenties. His complexion was not so much peaches and cream as pork and red porridge. He was wearing a tweed jacket with suede elbow-patches. I suspected that he would be at agricultural college, and not studying anything so interesting as the cultivation of garlic according to the cycles of the moon, either. No, there was a definite whiff of the field drainage system about him. Almost the first drawl out of his mouth was the nugget that there had been a gay bloke at his school.
I looked round a pillar at Kitty sitting on a settle smiling at me; half encouragingly, half maliciously.
‘There was a gay bloke, you see, at my school,’ Jeremy repeated.
'Where were you at school?’
‘Just the one gay? How were the statistics exam results there?'
‘Do you think being gay is biological?’
‘No, that’s washing powder.’
I slapped my thigh. He looked worried, as though this may be some obscure mating ritual.
‘Joke,’ I explained.
‘So, are we saying that it is or it isn’t biological?’
‘Then is it hereditary?’
‘Who from?’ I answered. ‘I’d either not be here at all or I’d be a lesbian.’
‘Do your parents know about you?’ he asked.
‘Oh, what - big baby like I was? Fat is definitely hereditary in my family. My mother was fully aware of giving birth. Before she was even a quarter dilated she was demanding a Caesarean. The midwife had to explain that there wouldn't be a sufficient number of sutures in the whole Kensington and Chelsea nursing district for that. They gave her such a cocktail of drugs to get her through she still has episodes when she thinks she's Sigrid the Haughty, Queen of Denmark. She pillaged the Kohkaycomest Spiritualist Lodge the Christmas before last off her trolley on Warninks Advocaat. And there was more than enough room for the fifty division Welsh Guards to take part in her postnatal pelvic floor exercises.'
He was looking distracted. ‘Do they mind,’ he asked?
‘Who, the Welsh Guards?’
‘Mind?’ I said, ‘mind? They ran it for all it was worth. There’s an old joke, way before your time: Mum, the milkman's here - have you got the money to pay him or shall I go out and play? After I hit puberty, it was my parents who went out. And it wasn't just the milkman 'collecting'. I had 'dealings' with the insurance man, double-glazing salesmen, rag-and-bone men, Red Cross, scouts on bob-a-job, Meals on Wheels (meant for Big Lill three doors down) and we must have been the only household ever that had to pay for The Watchtower.'
‘Another little joke, right?’
‘One of my stage routines, yes, I have to admit. This is really making you uncomfortable, though, isn't it? You've been looking aghast for the last little while.'
'Not...' he was staring.
'You did ask, you know. And I’ve not gone down the expected route of discussing bum-proclivities or anything.’
He was still staring.
‘What?’ I prompted.
'I don't want...'
'Just say it.'
‘Your shirt's nylon, you're wearing white man-made moccasins and you have no concept whatsoever of final consonants. My discomfiture's nothing at all to do with your being a bender of whatever - It’s the whole as-if notion that you could ever have been born in Kensington.'