Tallulah Bankhead, a famously hedonistic film star of yore once said, “They say it’s the good girls who keep diaries. The bad girls never have the time”. And she probably had a point.
When I was moving house last summer, I found a hardback A4 notebook I didn’t remember owning. It had rings from many cups of tea that had been rested on its cover and was faded and battered and red. I flicked it open and found most pages empty, save for a few notes from a meeting I went to in summer 1999, and then, after a couple of pages of doodles and a shopping list for a flat move, there was what looked like diary entries.
The first was undated and written entirely in French – I had just graduated the year before and it was one of my subjects and I was hopelessly pretentious – and spoke about the act of coming out, which I was yet to do to family.
It was self-indulgent, dramatic and ridiculous, but my French was pretty good, I have to say. Following it was another diary entry, again in French but abandoned halfway through, with “Somebody needs French lessons, je crois” scrawled across the bottom.
And then, after that, dated diary entries, about a page and a half each, of what was happening in my life from September 2000 to February 2001. I was living in Edinburgh, sharing a flat with a guy I had met at work. He was straight and I, well, wasn’t, but being gay was very new to me indeed. We are still friends, all these years later.
Amid the trivia of having a rubbish job and trying to earn more money by writing – my, how times have changed – there was a piece about an event I had totally forgotten. It was about the time a straight boy asked me to go into a cowshed with him.
Context: I was at a 30th birthday party – I can’t begin to tell you how old I thought that was at the time, despite being 24 – and it was in a cottage in Pitlochry, a small Scottish town. I had driven up to the party with my flatmate and some of our friends – well, they were technically his friends at this point, but they became mine over the years – and we got wasted and there were some other people there who we hadn’t met before and… well. I think I’ll let 24-year-old me take over. It’s not particularly interesting, but it’s so odd to look back on something I wrote that was clearly only ever for me, trying, I guess, to make sense of it all. And failing.
Come with me, back to Tuesday 3 October 2000:
“Tuesday. Loads has happened, as usual. We went to Bobby’s party on Saturday. It was wicked.
Out in the middle of nowhere, with plenty of booze, good music and mainly sound people. The real fun started when the Aberdeen contingent arrived. Well, they had the [REDACTED], the staple of any party, really.
Something really mad happened. I was speaking, fucked out of my face obviously, to some guy in the kitchen –I can’t even remember his name, but he had kind eyes and, like, an angular face. I went outside for a wander – probably to stare at the sky like an idiot – and he came along too. OK so far. When we got outside, he asked if he could kiss me. Bizarre. He was straight. He talked about his ex-girlfriend. Anyway, there’s an offer on the table right there and no is such a boring old word so, me being me, I said “Aye”. I mean, he was angular, but OK looking.
Anyway, we go up the side of the cottage and we get on with it, when he starts trying to take my trousers off. Um, forward. I was, like, “What?” He then says to me, out of nowhere, “Actually, this doesn’t do anything for me at all” which is always great to hear, and I said cool. And he tottered back into the cottage while I stood outside smoking a cigarette trying to remember the words to Saturday Night by Whigfield.
A couple of hours later, he asks if he can talk to me, and I think, “Oh here we go”. I reckoned now probably wasn’t the time to mention I have about a million issues of my own to deal with and how I wasn’t really going to be a useful shoulder to cry on, so I went outside with him. He took me into this shed thing and it was dark and freezing and unsexy, but instead of chewing my ear off, he went for my face instead. It was mad. This guy is straight by the way. Mad.
After we’d snogged for a bit and put our hands down each other’s trousers – curious minds and all that – he pulled away from me and said he was definitely straight but found me really attractive. It’s the weirdest thing. Nobody has ever really said that to me before and had me believe them. I mean, I’m as vain as the next man, but I’ve never believed it before.
And then he was gone.
Laura was hanging herself laughing when I told her. She tells me I have many admirers, James included (eugh – go away), but I don’t know. It was mad.
The next day was so traumatic, I don’t even want to go into it. Suffice to say I’ll never try to get from Pitlochry to Edinburgh on a Sunday ever again.
Work today was wank. I want out. Now. I’ve done fuck all, all day.
Words can’t describe how cheap I feel for what happened in that shed.
Time to get over it. For fuck’s sake.”
Quite the snapshot. Almost terminally boring and horrifically unsophisticated, too. And massive overuse of the word “mad”. Very Edinburgh.
I do remember, now, that the guy didn’t speak to me the rest of the evening. I think he was worried I was going to tell someone. He was right to worry, it would seem. The next day at breakfast, he was cheery and overtly heterosexual, sitting with a girl I think he must have pulled later on. I sat on my own, across the table, feeling puzzled and used and, of course, monumentally hungover and in need of my bed. Sure, I felt cheap, but I think I won that one. He got to go back to being his boring old self, while I, eventually, became me. And even though I still can’t remember his name, in a very tiny way, I have him to thank for that.
Back then, everything felt so serious and hopeless and overwhelming.
Reading that, I have never been gladder to be 40.