Thursday, 17 April 2014

But isn't gay a bad word?

I've been in my old stomping ground, Tufnell Park, for much of the day today. I had lunch with Uncle Archie from Wingspan and we talked through a few potential ideas for film projects in the light of the success of the wedding. Archie has very fine instincts, so when he makes a suggestion one would be foolish not to listen!

We had lunch in the Bull and Last; a pub next to the entrance to the boring bit of Hampstead Heath, which I frequented so often in my 20s. I remember one summer afternoon sitting in there with Fiona and Ellie and becoming obsessed with the shafts of light which were bursting through the windows. Really quite magical.

For old time's sake, I took myself to Fortess Road, my old street, to sit in Rustique, a "literary" cafe which is  lined with fascinating books and paintings. I remember when it opened fifteen or so years ago. It revolutionised the area for me. In those days many of the shops on the street were boarded over. These days there's even a Sainsbury's local, and all manner of cafes.

The woman who opened Rustique was American, and she wanted it to have the vibe of caf├ęs she'd hung out in back home. She wanted it attract writers and art lovers.

For the first few years of its existence I was almost part of the furniture, going in there every single day to work on the script of my musical Blast, trying to make a single cup of tea last as long as possible because I couldn't afford a second cup. The cafe was mentioned by a Guardian journalist in 1999, who described me as "so perfect a customer" for the ambience of the cafe, he almost doubted my authenticity. It seemed rather wonderful to be back there today, sitting in my old seat, working on Brass.

I came home by bus and stood next to a fat, sour-faced woman, who tutted every time the bus caused me to lose my balance and slightly invade her body space. Plainly I wasn't doing it deliberately, and I was deeply apologetic on the two occasions when it happened but she gracelessly refused to smile or acknowledge my apology, to the extent that I was tempted to call her a silly cow.

Raily told me a fascinating story yesterday. Her son, my godson, Will,  who walked down the aisle at the wedding with my ring, was asked at school what he was going to be doing the weekend of our wedding. "I'm going to a wedding" he said to his teacher, "but can't tell you anything else about it because it's a bad word..." When he reported this to his Mum, she was confused, and then horrified when it transpired that Will had, at some point, and quite rightly, been told that calling people "gay" in the playground was wrong. What no one had then told him, or perhaps what he hadn't heard, was that gay was only a bad word when used as an insult. It's funny how these things can backfire. By being well-meaningly PC his school had inadvertently reinforced homophobia. Poor Will had found himself unable to talk about his gay Uncle Ben.

Raily immediately sailed into the school and pointed out what was going on. The school acted brilliantly quickly and immediately called the kids into assembly to tell them that being gay was genuinely okay, and that it was only the context the word was used it that might cause offence. Phew! The teacher then suggested all the kids went home to watch Will's staring moment on the telly.

What's difficult to know, of course, is how many other kids like Will exist who are confused that the word gay can have opposite meanings depending on context. It's astonishing the pit-falls one can stumble across on the journey towards equality!

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