Upon the discovery of the pearl-clutching, moralist, and boring side of me

The jargon that I and Mark have with our friends, like Stephen, can border on the shocking sometimes. It takes a particularly close friend not to be offended. Since Stephen has no problem doing us down in other matters, I do take his lack of protest as acceptance; an acknowledgement that it’s a bit of fun, and nothing else.

Henry Scott Tuke, 1858-1929, was an English impressionist painter who had a habit of painting young men in various stages of undress.

Henry Scott Tuke, 1858-1929, was an English impressionist painter who had a habit of painting young men in various stages of undress.

“I’ve said from the day I met him,” I can say to Mark about Stephen when Stephen is visiting and listening, “that he’d make the perfect third in a threesome”

“Nah,” Mark can reply. “He’s slept over. He snores too much.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that we’d sleep together.”

“Besides, he’s too small.”

“Size queen.”

“I can’t be, I’m with you remember.”

“Sweetie, you’re sleeping on the sofa tonight.”

Regardless of whether it’s with Abbie and Ben or with Stephen, this is the type of banter that occur frequently among us, and it is a bit of fun because we know each other so well that nobody would take it the least bit seriously.

But when strangers attempt to have that sort of banter, it can go all wrong and awkward, and the puritan which lives inside of me can pop out. Pearls will be clutched. My face will become a turnip. “I say, that sort of thing is far from acceptable, old sport.”

A few days ago I went to London with my mother, to act the perfectly respectable façade of the mother and scientist who have combined a working life with motherhood to the point where, well, I can sit there and behave properly without saying much.

Before the interviews and the dinners, however, the social fabric of our disjointed little family must be reinforced. My uncle (or his wife) had asked mother to check up on our cousin in London, and so we did.

Here’s the tally of our stock of cousins. There is me, and there is auntie’s daughter in Brighton, and there are three boys in Stirling, Scotland. Of these five cousins in all, three of us are card-carrying homosexuals, which makes us joke amongst ourselves that with such a strong genetic jack-pot, one or both of our grandparents must have carried a secret to the grave.

Auntie’s daughter came out years ago, and paved the way for us boys later. She took all the drama and the questions and the accusations, and got rid of it. When I, as the second, came out all the dramas and recriminations that I had played up in my head was met with a “Whatever, we knew all along” from my parents. When, let’s call him Cousin Third, came out I and Brighton Cousin rolled our eyes and said, “Is there something in the water?”

Now, Cousin Third lives in a flat-share in London with five other men. All of them are gay twenty-somethings, except for the oldest who has passed into the age of the thirty-something. They share a house in an edgier part of London. This is where mother and I ended up when we came to check up on Cousin Third.

There we stood on the door-step when a man with a light fuzzy beard appeared and opened the front door, dressed in jeans and a green chiffon blouse. Oh yeah, stereotypical or not, there was no doubt about which side of the divide this gentleman belonged to.

Once inside, mother and Cousin Third disappeared to the car to fetch something mother had brought for him, and I was left alone in the living room with the replica of a painting by Henry Scott Tuke over the fireplace. The room was stark white, with dark wood bookshelves, bright coloured cushions directly on the polished wood floor, and a glass table in the middle in front of the too large television set which would have made Mark envious.

And then the attempt at the same banter which I have with Stephen. “Sweetie, you are just adorable,” says the green-chiffoned man as he passes the living room on the way from his room to the kitchen. Demonstrably he slaps me on my bottom. “Whenever you ditch your girlfriend, give me a ring.”

It is at this point that Cousin Third and mother comes back, carrying bags. He hears it and laughs, and explains that I too am a card-carrying homosexual, and married to boot. To which the man in the green blouse just bats his made-up eyelids and replies. “Oh, is your husband as cute too? The more the merrier. I’m not one to deny excess.” Then he pinches my cheek and disappears into his own room, and I’m left with a curious sense of resentment and outrage.

The funny thing is that this mirror image of some conversations I’ve had with Stephen makes me blush furiously, and if I’d had pearls I would have clutched them. And there’s a definite resentment there, blooming hot inside me. “Who does he think he is!?” It’s only in the car on the way home after that I can think about it dispassionately, and link it to the jargon I use with Stephen or Abbie or Ben.

I guess that it’s the uncertainty that makes it different. Stephen and Abbie and Ben knows that when I say that, I don’t mean it. But did this guy mean it or not? Since I don’t know, I can’t be sure, and if I can’t be sure, then the possibility must exist. Maybe I should have known about this pearl-clutching moralist living inside of me, considering how my jealousy can flare up sometimes. Or maybe I’m just, in fact, a really boring person who will never dare to do anything outside my rigid upper-middle-class upbringing.

Back from London where I went to do my family duty of pretending to be the perfect son

There is one aspect to living with my parents that I certainly haven’t missed, and to be fair to them it was an activity that they never did much of anyway. What I’m talking about is those times when I became a trophy to display to people who aren’t interested in me at all.

Mother is leaving the UK again. Her work up in Coventry didn’t work out, and so she has looked to get back into a research position in Sweden. I don’t think Britain is particularly well adapted to women in the hard sciences, and Mum has expressed exasperation about ‘herding cats’ who don’t really respect her knowledge in her job here. Rather than grit her teeth and bear it until resistance fades away and she is allowed to prove her real competence, she has decided to go back to Sweden.

Because she’s interviewing for new positions, she brings people over to London. It’s always a favourite with Swedes, because Swedes tend to be quite fond of the England. Of course, ‘England’ encompasses all the UK. Going to Glasgow or Cardiff, to a Swede, is ‘going to England’. And, since she has seniority enough, the companies come to her. No doffed cap in hand here. She has published a lot, and she has a name, and research labs want her on their staff enough to take a detour to London. What a sacrifice, eh?

In the process of those interviews, there are dinners in the evening after everyone has done the official bit and people are sitting around bored in hotel rooms. This is where she can turn on her professional charm at the people who want to hire her. My job is to sit there and radiate ‘well behaved son’ to the guests. Their job is to care and not wonder what the hell I’m doing there. I’m just a token of respectability, and my behaviour is all about my mother. Not me. Nobody expects me to contribute much to these things, of course. Nobody will, except from a sense of politeness, ask me about anything. I have to sit for a couple of hours mostly silent and eat in an agreeable way that doesn’t offend anyone.

I haven’t had to do these things for years now. And even then, I only had to do it like once or twice a year when they invited people to the house. This time, she asked me to come along, and since it meant a free trip into London for just me and mum, I agreed. Now that it’s over, it feels a bit manipulative and contrived. Of course, there’s the excuse that mum and I can meet in London, just the two of us and talk about things. But it feels like we could do that without involving these absolute strangers who probably don’t care one way or the other that I even exist.

It is also a funny contrast between my family and Mark’s. With Mark’s lot, we come together to meet each other, and don’t have an ulterior purpose to things. A bunch of people sit down at a dinner because they want to be together for that dinner. It’s simpler, more direct, more authentic. Unlike us, where we have these meetings that have this unspoken and unmentioned agenda to it. Where the unmentioned and unspoken agenda is the important thing, but where we pretend that we’re really only doing what Mark’s people do.

I did get a new phone out of it. A phone I have absolutely no need for. First, it’s too huge to keep in my pocket. Second, I already have two phones – one regular with a contract and another pay-as-you-go phone that I bring with me when I do my running or anything which might see my things take a beating. And now this phone. I’m thinking of selling it. But then mum will ask about it, and I’d have to lie.