It has been over forty years since I first had sex.
I was eighteen, maybe nineteen, and I went to Bang on the Charing Cross Road for the first time. I’d been to gay clubs before, rooms above pubs, mostly, but this was the first big, laser-lit, music set to eleven club. It was thrilling, it felt like home.
I saw someone whose looks I liked, five or six years older than me, sitting with his friends and I leaned down and asked him to dance. Young people are bold, sometimes, I guess they don’t know any better. I wish we never did.
We danced, and the next thing I remember I was naked and saying, Believe it or not, I’ve never done this before. Anyone would have believed it, I’m sure. I’d fumbled, and flailed, but never, you know, done it. And then we were doing it, and then we were eating pâté on toast and drinking tea in bed, and I’ve never felt so sophisticated.
We went out for a couple of years, that man and me, until we didn’t, and I still think about him, my first love, forty years later, every week or so, perhaps more often.
One of the joys, as well as one of the biggest surprises, of my middle age is that, after a few years off in my forties after another love ended, how active my sex life has been. I don’t just mean busy, it has been more enjoyable than ever before, too. I suppose I’m some jaded, old trolley, but that helps, you know. It makes the times it’s good better, and the times it isn’t easier to brush off. I should say, it is good by several measures more often than it isn’t.
The last two years have been eventful. First, I moved to Tel Aviv, put everything I own into crates and took it with me. I was serious about the move, even if I never quite worked out why I wanted to go. I think I needed to put some distance between me and my family, but, as Nathan says, You can never really get away from them, they’ll always be in your head. He’s right, obviously, which may be a reason Israel didn’t stick. I left exactly a year after I arrived. I think I did manage to put some miles between us, head miles, but that may be time rather than geography. I wrote about my adventures in a blog called White Meat, should you care to read about them.
I thought I’d move back to London, more-or-less pick up my life where I’d left it, but I felt restless, unable to settle. I spent time in Rome, then London again, then took off to France. I arrived in Paris on the first warm day of spring, pale pink blossom in the air like confetti. I took the train back to London after a month and listlessly looked for a flat. But my heart wasn’t in it, so I returned to Paris, where I spent the days trotting around, doing a little of this, maybe some of that, eating lunch, shopping for dinner. There wasn’t enough time for everything. Is there another city better suited to all this activity?
I’m lonely in London, is the truth. I go to bookshops and walk in the parks and drink coffee and almost all of it by myself. I watch tv and cook dinner and, however many handsome young men want to spend a little time with me, I’m lonely. At least, when I’m elsewhere, I have the consolation of novelty.
Perhaps more surprisingly, to me, anyway, is that I don’t just have a sex life, I have a romantic life, too, if such a thing is imaginable in the about-to-be sixties. Since I returned from Tel Aviv there have been… opportunities, more, even, than when I was in my twenties. The difference, of course, is not the world, but me. Experience gives me a little swagger, and confidence is sexy.
I could have fallen in love with Yanis or Fabrizio or Lester, and maybe did, at least a little.
Yanis is thirty, does something clever, and earns a lot of money for it, and Lester is forty, and a train driver on the underground so, Jesus, earns a fortune. They both live in small rooms in other people’s flats. Fabrizio is an estate agent in his forties and his heart was broken in Germany last year so he moved back to live with his mother. This isn’t unknown in Italy.
I met Fabrizio in Rome: he’d played volleyball for the national team and was sad that, still beautiful, still exercising six days a week, his smooth skin was no longer as elastic as when he was twenty. He has a fine, Etruscan beard, and a striking roman nose, and co-wrote last year’s Croatian Eurovision entry, which came seventh. Talk about thrilling! I may spend the winter in Rome, so maybe we’ll meet again.
I liked Lester, who has beautiful, caramel-coloured skin. His physique is something; he looks like he’s been inflated. Not huge, not The Rock, but he wants to be bigger. He’d leave me at nine to go to the gym. Nine pm, I should tell you. He used to take so many steroids that earlier in the year he had a heart attack and was kept in a coma for a month. Maybe he’s insane.
One day I emerged from Belsize Park tube, and saw a muscular form from behind wearing a LT uniform, thought how much he looked like Lester. The man turned around, it was Lester, but his name badge said Matt. I couldn’t find a way to form the question I needed to ask about it. He seemed uncomfortable to be seen with me. We’d talked, just the night before, about how he didn’t want to come out at work. I don’t think secrecy leads to happiness and, in a country where men can marry each other, I don’t think it’s necessary, but it’s his life.
The least conventionally handsome, maybe, but also most exciting, the most dangerous, the sexiest, was Yanis, but he took himself away, and that may have been for the best. I started seeing him in November when I was fresh from Tel Aviv. We picked up in January, after I returned from Frankfurt. He’d come over to my air b’n’b after work with his jim jams in his bag, and we’d sit, like millennials, cross-legged on the sofa, him looking at his iPhone, me at my iPad, occasionally looking up at an explosion on the tv, or to show the other what we’d found. It was more enjoyable than it sounds.
One evening, as he was taking his jacket off, he said, I’ve been a bad boy. I tried to stop him, didn’t think we were at a point where it was my business, but it didn’t work, he pressed on. How he’d met someone the previous night, someone he didn’t like, and had sex with him. Amanda thinks he was warning me off, and maybe he was. The next morning he spent too long looking at me, and I thought, rightly, that that was that. I liked him a lot: another week and it would have been harder. This is life, but then it all is.
I know from Yanis’ Instagram, which is entirely portraits of him with his sunglasses resting on top of his bald head, that he’s in Sitges this week, as is Fabrizio, although they don’t know each other. Funny.
Otherwise, there have been fleeting pleasures, the usual chancers and grifters and no-marks, their hulls barely scraping mine, no muss no fuss. The other night Jean, at Le Bear Den, handed me a raspberry sorbet, looked into my eyes, and said, Think of it like my dick. French men can be so romantic.
Anyway, I’m sixty today. I look in the mirror and it’s like I’ve been painted by Soutine. I’m back in London for dinner with friends. I don’t have enough friends to show for sixty years, but at least I like them, they are good people and interesting, too. Tomorrow I’m going to see Nathan in Palma. As I say, I can’t settle. Stephane calls me un vagabond, which sounds sexy in French, to me, anyway. I will sort it out, I will find a place to live, find something to do. But for now it’s time to launch the gilded barges, light the fireworks, start the band playing. I’ve organised sixty bagpipers, I know you’ll love it.