I have come to appreciate that some people who you meet are special, and you want to keep being in their lives, or have them in yours, even if they only dip in and out at irregular intervals. I met Spence maybe two years ago when he came over to have a speech for Mark’s LGBT club, and we’ve been exchanging emails and texts on an infrequent basis ever since.

quentincrispSpence is in his fifties, and he’s as queer as they come. He hails from a small town in the north of this country, and left that town in the eighties for the bright lights of London where a ‘pooftah’ like him could find an outlet that didn’t include being dragged behind the pub by the local lads for “a chat”.

Reading his mails and texts is sometimes like peeking through a keyhole at another far more exciting, exotic, and dangerous time. You only have a quick glimpse of something, and when you ask about it you get a long screed back about death, humour, dishonour, pride, glory, and adventure.

One of the defining things about Spence is that he is very marked by things like the AIDS epidemic of the eighties-nineties, and he was nearby when the pub in Soho was bombed, and he marched against Section 28, and such. He has been beaten by cops, and have marched against Thatcher. It makes mine and Mark’s little run ins with homophobia, which is nearly absent from our lives anyway, seem so small and insignificant.

This is one of the reasons he goes around the speech circuit to talk to us young ‘uns because, as he once said quite angrily when I didn’t understand something he’d said, “seeing the new faces come onto the scene and look at me with utter disbelief about some of the normal things we faced back then gives me fucking hope, mate”. Yes, his responses can be quite acerbic in nature, full or irony and sarcasm, but then again he is English through and through.

It is good to have people like Spence in my life because I am not just a language and literature student, but a history buff as well. And the history of LGBT in this country, and in this area of the country, interest me quite a bit. I’ve been reading about people like Quentin Crisp, who is such a contrast to a person like Spence. He was against LGBT liberation, for one thing, yet was a defining character for that liberation.

Today I got an email from Spence saying he had been in a hospital, and it was full of the usual bravado and humour, except it was about cancer. He’s been in for chemo therapy, and was railing about having survived the black death of the AIDS, only to contract “cancer in the balls. It’s God having a laugh”, he said. And I’m thinking about how appreciative I am of having people like him in my life, and how it now, when the cancer scare is hovering over that person, seems like I should try to spend more time with such people before they’re gone.