Category Archives: Brief encounters

The straight boy in the cowshed

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.  Continue reading The straight boy in the cowshed

The first crush is the deepest

I once read a brilliant interview with the ever-awkward Simon Amstell, which included him talking about his first celebrity crush.

It is rare for gay celebrities to talk about their crushes. Usually we don’t really like to imagine anyone knocking one out thinking about another, let alone gay men.

Also, for a gay man to admit he may at one time have dreamed of kissing a straight man would mean he were in some way determined to make it happen, right?

As we all know, a straight man left alone in a room with a gay man is bound to feel under threat and oppressed – we can’t keep our hands to ourselves, we love to intimidate.

Sigh.

And then I got to thinking about my first crush and surmised there must have been many, even before I realised what sex actually was, and what went where, and even dreamed of putting anything anywhere. But the first one that stuck in my mind was Harry.

Harry. I remember thinking about Harry.

Even before I knew I was gay, I knew I wanted to see Harry with no shirt on. And thankfully, once a week I did – every single Monday for three years in PE.

Holding in sobs on the rugby pitch, getting my knees battered in hockey, being too short for basketball, watching 130mph serves whistle by me in tennis, trudging dejectedly across the field after one run in cricket, and the endless, infernal hell of football for the remaining millennia – all worth it, in their perverse way, for the 10 minutes either side that I got to furtively look at Harry’s skin in the changing rooms. Continue reading The first crush is the deepest

The Steal

In 2001 I was 25, living in Scotland and still ‘finding my way’.

I was painfully inexperienced, restricted to directionless fumbling, falling in lust with the man who washed hair in my barber’s salon or avoiding hopeless one night stands. Saturday nights (and Sunday mornings) were usually spent at parties, having the same dazzling conversations with less than dazzling company.

I had met bubbly Scouser Cally at one of these parties and we had struck up an incredibly superficial friendship that relied on darkness and close proximity to vodka. Despite our repeated assertions that we would meet up for coffee “sooooon”, there was an understanding between us that needed no words. This was just a party thing.

I was at one such party and had a text from Cally that she was on her way with some friends. Her friends weren’t really my kind of people – and I was certainly not top of their “most influential” lists either. These were weathered gay men, slightly older, and suspicious of the English boy who they never seemed to be able to work out or, crucially, fuck.

I was trading jibes good-naturedly with a guy in the kitchen when suddenly a door slammed and there was a whirlwind – Cally and her entourage. I greeted her warmly, but couldn’t help notice she’d brought a bottle of Grant’s vodka with her – I was willing to lay money on the fact she’d not touch a drop of it herself, not when there was so much Smirnoff around.

I greeted her warmly, but couldn’t help notice she’d brought a bottle of Grant’s vodka with her – I was willing to lay money on the fact she wouldn’t touch a drop of it herself.

As I queued for the toilet, one of Cally’s friends, Nick, queued behind me and started to play a one-man good cop, bad cop routine.

First he complimented me on my hair and then slated me for being too big for my boots. He then followed me into the bathroom and looked at me like a bulldog gazing at a link of sausages. Then: a bang on the door. Continue reading The Steal

The Charm Offensive

I am 24 and at a friend’s flat. She is having a party. Well, I say party – the lounge is full of people, there are bottles of vodka and dubious mixers on the kitchen table and there is a queue for the toilet. It’s as close to a party as we’re going to get this evening.

I am a different animal as a 24-year-old. I’ve yet to endure all the various, turbulent life experiences that will teach me to be kinder, more humble, accommodating, friendly – all that shit.

Instead I am almost a quarter of a century of awkwardness, curiosity and sugar-topped vitriol masquerading as confidence. A familiar tale to many, I’m sure.

I’ve not been out of the closet long – I’m still working out what to do with my wonky wiring and feelings that I’m now allowed to have. And I get super-nervous around other gay men.

As I pour myself a really large gin and tonic, alone, my friend glides into the kitchen and says: “Claire’s friend Matt is here. He’s gay, but a bit weird. Watch out for him.”

I thank her for – well, warning me, I guess – and pour an extra shot of gin into my glass, sending the contents splashing all over the table. 38-year-old me would get a cloth and wipe it up, but time machines aren’t a thing yet and so 24-year-old me vaguely waggles some kitchen roll in the spillage’s direction and strides out to the lounge to witness this weirdo for myself.

I spy him immediately. He is kind of good-looking, despite being dressed in clothes you would describe unfortunate at best. He throws his head back in laughter at something the guy he’s with is saying.

I have met the other guy before and know for a fact his banter is up there with a night in a Bangkok prison in the LOL stakes, so I assume the hysterical laughter is for somebody else’s benefit. It then occurs to me that maybe he too has had a ‘warning’.

I play that desperately unoriginal game every young gay plays: faux-blindness. Oh, boys, you all think you’re being so clever, but coyness is the one trick every gay guy likes to pull out of the bag first. It’s never convincing and always ends in disaster. But I’m yet to learn that.

So it begins. I pretend I haven’t seen Matt at all and instead trundle over to a corner and start talking to someone much better looking.

It continues this way for around an hour or so. Whenever he walks into a room, I find the earliest opportunity to leave it and if finding myself trapped in a group conversation, smile politely before making my excuses and going to the loo. He does the same – he never addresses me directly and doesn’t cast his eye over me at all.

While our paths don’t cross and we haven’t said a word to each other, the air is thick with something – and it’s not cigarette smoke. Our fellow party guests eyeball us nervously, nudging each other, as if wondering who’s going to bite first.

Eventually, I take a pew in the kitchen and join another conversation. Matt enters soon after me and sits opposite. I am between the kitchen wall and the table and can’t possibly get out without appearing very rude. So the conversation continues.

Matt doesn’t say much, but looks across at me often. It is definitely not lust in his eyes – his hooded eyelids convey a dash of contempt, if anything. I decide I don’t have anybody to impress and let forth what I suppose at the time would’ve passed for bawdy humour but would now seem crass and attention-seeking. I’d do anything for a laugh.

At the next gap in conversation, Matt takes a swig of his drink and leans over, saying loudly to me: “Do you know, I think you’re the most arrogant person I’ve ever met.”

The room goes deathly quiet – the only sound is the ice clinking in my glass as my hand trembles.

I laugh derisively and he gets up and walks out of the room.

About half an hour later, I decide it is time to go. I call a cab and wait for it outside the flat – the sky getting lighter and lighter as I smoke the bollocks off a Marlboro Light.

I hear the familiar diesel engine sound and my chariot pulls up. Suddenly by my side is Matt.

“Er, hi,” he says.
“It’s bye, actually,” I beam as I open the cab door.
“But…” he starts breathlessly. “Aren’t I coming with you?”
“What?!” I shriek. “Why would you be coming with me?”
“I thought I’d be coming home with you,” he says plainly.
I’m incredulous. “Why? I thought I was the most arrogant person you’d ever met.”
“You are. And I want to come home with you.”

I’ll never forget his look as I carefully close the cab door and tell the driver to go – his hopeful face getting smaller and smaller in the distance until it is just a dot.

I’m sure Matt wanted to teach me a lesson I’d never forget, and he did – just not the one he was hoping for. The only thing I learned from him was that I should stop being a dick at parties – and that men are depressingly impossible to read.

Image: cathydelmarnie on Flickr

The Forget-me-not

To celebrate my blog’s fourth birthday, I decided to give everyone a rest from my prattling and instead hand over to a guest contributor – and not just any guest poster, oh no. This wonderful, funny tale of a brief encounter, which I knew I had to have for the blog as soon as I heard it, comes from none other than my wonderful, funny boyfriend. Take it away, handsome…

It’s Friday night, and “the girls” are on the town. I’m with my friend James and his mate Chris, who I’ve not met before, and the scene could not be more like the start of Grease if a load of girls in pink jackets appeared and started singing Summer Nights.

Chris, you see, is in love. He’s just met Dan, and he’s keen to tell us more, tell us more.

“He’s just perfect,” he sighs. “HOT. Amazing body. Perfect kisser. Great sex. And he’s so into me. I think we might have a real future together. I just can’t believe my luck!”

James and I, painfully single, each raise an eyebrow. Frankly, we can’t believe his bloody luck either. And to put the tin lid on it, this God of a gay is on his way to join us, so we’ll have to watch them getting off with each other all night.

A couple of drinks later and Chris perks up even more when his beloved arrives.

As he walks towards us, we see that Dan is indeed HOT, with an amazing body. And I realise that I know exactly  how perfect a kisser he is, because I had been suctioned to that oh-so-beautiful face mere months earlier.

“You know who that is, don’t you?” I whisper to James.

He nods wearily, having been one of the unfortunate witnesses on the night Dan and I had made quite the spectacle of ourselves on the dance floor before vanishing into the night.

When Dan sits down beside me, it becomes clear that his memory is not quite as vivid. As we’re introduced, he regards me with suspicion.

“Have we met before?” he asks.

“I’m sure I would remember if we had,” I reply, icily.

Eventually, Chris and Dan head to the bar.

“Bloody hell,” I say to James. “He’s the last person I wanted to see.”

James smirks. “Really?” he says. “Didn’t you say he was the best sex you’d had in your life?”.

I scowl. “Well, yes. But I’m obviously the only one who thought so. He doesn’t remember me!”.

Dan returns, plonks himself back down and peers at me intently. “You look so familiar. Do you ever go out in Clapham?” he asks.

“I’ve only been there once,” I reply.

Dan will not be placated, and an hour of gentle interrogation follows. Eventually, he loses patience. “I’ve definitely met you before,” he says, just a bit too loudly. “Are you sure you don’t go to the Two Brewers?”.

It’s obvious I’m going to have to spell it out, so I lean in to remind him about the cold January night when he dragged me back to his Clapham lair and administered the best sex I’d had in my life.

Suddenly, Dan can remember our encounter only too clearly – right down to the phone call he made the following afternoon, not quite accusing me of stealing his Vue Cinema unlimited pass.

“I’m sorry I never called you,” he tells me. “It was a big mistake. Can I see you again?”

A-well-a-well-a-well-a-HUH?

I glance at Chris, who gazes adoringly at his new love, even as he puts the moves on me. Do I really want to be him? Looking on while my beautiful boyfriend blatantly chats up other men?

I consider this for a moment and, remembering the best sex I’d had in my life, decide that yes, I absolutely want to be him.

Last orders are called. James and Chris head off to the cloakroom, leaving Dan and I alone at the bar.

“So, can I give you my number?” he begs.

“I have your number,” I laugh.

“Oh, yeah. Well, please give me yours then. I promise I’ll call you.” He asks to the barman for a pen and paper as Chris walks back toward us. “Write it down,” he whispers, urgently. “I’ll shake your hand when we leave and you can slip it into mine.”

Devious! He’s no first-time philanderer.

I take the paper, discreetly scribble on it, fold it up and pass it to Dan, as arranged. The happy couple leave – Dan gives me a cheeky wink as he goes, and Chris is none the wiser.

Do I feel guilty? Absolutely not! Just a bit sad that I won’t be there to see Dan’s beautiful face as he opens the piece of paper to read:

“You absolute bastard”.

Image: Flickr

The Attachment

I’ve been chatting online to Graham – a 35-year-old ‘scientist’ – for a day or two and still can’t quite work him out. And I’m not sure I want to. It’s like there is something he isn’t saying; the unwritten words hanging in the air like hours-old fag smoke.

He talks me through the minutiae of his day like he’s writing a report for his parole officer. There is no humour, no flirtation – just fact after fact after fact. Wikipedia has become sentient and decided to explore the niche of being a very boring man in his thirties. At first I try to reply more spiritedly in the hope it will inspire him to jazz things up a little.

I am a one-man crash team trying to revive a fillet steak. His replies come back, still monotonous, but now longer. More information. How has this happened?

Desperate for a diversion from all this typing he’s sending me, I look again at his photos. His hair, receding, is an uneventful brown. His eyes, a dull blue and too close together, seem troubled. In all his photos, he’s staring straight into the camera wearing all manner of polo shirts, each one buttoned right up to the very top. Fashion bloggers would call it an ‘air tie’. Graham doesn’t look like he’s ever read a fashion blog. His mouth is a dull pink smear across his face – he doesn’t smile, or frown.

I am a one-man crash team trying to revive a fillet steak.

I scroll through mugshot after mugshot. I don’t know where any of the pictures have been taken. Sometimes I get a tantalising sliver of brick wall at the corner of the pic or perhaps… is that…? Is it the sky? Or a blue curtain? No idea. Every picture is cropped into the face as much as possible. He’s certainly got plenty of spare pics should he lose his travelcard.

He badgers me about a date but I decide I’m not going to meet him. I’m not attracted to him, after all, and I don’t see any point in leading him on. I’ve had a busy week and am not that desperate for a night out. I don’t want to just stop replying – somehow my warped sense of propriety prevents me from telling him to bore off. I resolve to wind things down by making my gap between replies longer, and my emails shorter and impersonal. The ultimate diss – being phased out before you’ve even met.

Incredibly, Graham is undeterred. In fact, my lack of interest seems to excite him and enrage him in equal measure. Finally, the tone of his missives changes. It’s not an upgrade, however.

“Off out later, are you?” he says when I tell him I’m busy. “Meeting somebody off Grindr for a SHAG?”
I don’t know what to say, so I decide to say nothing

The next day: “I bet you chase after all the boys, don’t you? I know what guys like you get up to.”
I get the feeling that he’s typing one-handed, so decide now’s as good a time as any to go into silent mode.
He gives it one final go.
“I shaved today,” he says.

I see the email has an attachment: a photo, which I open. Yes, he’s shaved all right. Everywhere. Instead of a smooth chin or chest, I see gleaming genitalia – Spam-pink with sensitivity and not a hair to be seen.
I somehow manage to retain my lunch and delete the photo, closing the email and marking it as – what else? – spam, to match his angry little pecker.

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

Image: Flickr

The Hogmanay Kiss

Have you ever been to Edinburgh for New Year? You really should. Edinburgh is beautiful.

The year I go to Edinburgh’s annual street party, usually avoided by the locals, is 1997. I am 22. I have just broken up with my girlfriend. Yes, girlfriend. We weren’t together very long and my tears had dried before we’d even got to the second syllable of goodbye.

My friend and I don’t have tickets for the street party, but we are not-very-reliably informed it is the ‘place to go’, so we buy lots of beer and make sure we are within the boundaries before they are roped off for ticketholders. It is ludicrously easy. But now it is 7.30pm, it’s freezing and I am going to be here for at least five hours.

I light a cigarette in the absence of absolutely anything else to do (this is a very long time ago – I haven’t smoked for over a decade) and as I take a drag, a group of people my age appear before me, one guy and two girls. They are what my grandmother would call “merry”. They ask for a light and we chat for a while.

Alex laughs longest and loudest of everyone.

My friend is very sociable and boisterous, so we soon develop a kind of camaraderie. The guy is warm and friendly and introduces himself as Alex. I’m sorry, girls, but your names escape me all these years later. We get chatting to another group of guys and soon we have a little posse all of our own, swaying as the beers take hold, lighting each other’s cigarettes and talking utter rubbish – each of us pretending it isn’t absolutely freezing. Everybody laughs at all my jokes, even the ones that aren’t funny. Alex laughs longest and loudest of everyone.

The hours crawl by and eventually we resort to the game you can only comfortably play with strangers – Truth or Dare. Various dull revelations are uncovered during the first couple of rounds: weirdest place you’ve had sex, weird celebrity crushes etc. One of the guys we have met, who is freezing his balls off in a kilt, asks Alex if he is gay. Alex says he is, and looks straight at me.

One of the girls, who has been feeling my backside on and off for about half an hour with absolutely zero response from me, dares the man in the kilt to kiss Alex for ten seconds.

Something happens to me that I don’t quite understand. I want to back away from them all, to run. I’m not homophobic – or at least I don’t think I am – but I don’t want that question to come my way. I shuffle from foot to foot and feign blowing into my hands to keep them warm. They are not cold – my gloves are thicker than axminster. I feel nervous and excited. And yet I drip with dread.

The game continues. A dare. One of the girls, who has been feeling my backside on and off for about half an hour with absolutely zero response from me, dares the man in the kilt to kiss Alex for ten seconds. My stomach churns; I feel sick. Mr Kilt reluctantly accepts this challenge. We all watch and cheer.

I play along and exclaim “Urrrrgh” loudly as they kiss, noticing that Alex tries to slip the other guy his tongue. And just as he does, for the last second, he looks me right in the eye.

Then, it is my turn to be asked. I pick “truth” – I don’t want to be dared the same.

The other girl tries to focus on me and asks my question: “Do you fancy Alex?”

I try not to glare back. I think what my reaction should be. I pull what I think is my best puzzled grimace.

“Me? No, no.” I laugh nervously.

And then I look at Alex and pat his shoulder with a pathetic ‘matey’ stroke.

“Sorry, man. You’re just not my type. Wrong sex and all that.” I am basically chucking out a #NoHomo response.

Alex smiles back at me without even a hint of snide. “Haha, no problem!”

And then it is over. For the moment.

The game fizzles out once everybody else has snogged each other – it is fairly obvious the man in the kilt will be going home with almost every female within a 10-mile radius – and I drain my can of beer and excuse myself to go to the loo. I’m glad to be away from them, but I am not alone for long. I hear my name being called and turn to see Alex bounding up behind me.

“I need the loo too so thought I’d chum you along,” he says.

My stomach lurches and I start to feel light-headed. He chats to me as we queue for a portable loo but I feel awkward and can’t really process what he’s saying. Suddenly, he produces a cigarette for me and lights it. I look at him.

“I thought you didn’t have a light?” I ask.

He looks from my face to the lighter and back again. Busted.

“Ah,” he says. If his cheeks weren’t already rosy from the cold, he’d blush. “That was just a ruse.”

“A ruse?”

“Yeah, to get to talk to you.”

“What?” I ask. “One of the girls wanted to talk to me?”

“No,” says Alex patiently, gently. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh, why?” I reply, not being deliberately stupid, I promise. I am 22, remember.

He takes a really long drag of his cigarette. “I thought you and your friend were together, a couple,” he chuckles. “I just wanted to check.”

“Why?”

“Because…” he begins, but then a loo becomes free in front of us and a man further back in the queue tells me to “get a fucking move on, pal”, so I leap into it and have a very shaky, anxious piss.

“I want to talk to you,” says Alex, gulping.
“What about?”
“You. You’re gay, aren’t you? I mean–” he scratches his head. “I hope you are. Are you?”

When I come back out, there’s no sign of Alex, so I assume he has gone back to the group. I then feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s him.

“I want to talk to you,” he says, gulping.

“What about?”

“You,” he says, his eyes desperately searching mine. “You’re… you’re gay, aren’t you? I mean–” he scratches his head. “I hope you are. Are you?”

I pull my mouth in tight and attempt to shrug. “No, I’m not.”

Alex leans in closer. “Are you sure?”

I look around to see if anybody from the group is near us. They’re miles away, but I have to make sure. I run my hands over my face and try to think.

Finally, I pull Alex away farther down the street.

“What are you doing?” he smiles drunkenly. I don’t reply. I don’t know what to say. We just keep moving. 

We end up on a narrow, dark street, free of Hogmanay drunks. There is an even smaller close just off to the right, and we scoot down it. It is drizzling. There is just one streetlight, glowing bright orange but far from warming. There is a metal fire escape staircase. It’s almost like I know I will never forget this.

Alex clears his throat. “I want to kiss you. But I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

My mind explodes over and over again. A supernova of confusion, curiosity and fear. I have been cautious all my life, risk-averse. Tonight, something feels different.

I put my hand round Alex’s waist and pull him to me. I feel the damp chill of the fire escape pressing into my back. I am surprised by the feel of his stubble and the forcefulness of his mouth. Somewhere, on another planet, a crowd starts to count backward from ten. Everything melts away.

When we break apart, it is 1998. And nothing will ever be the same again.