The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince – Ridley, Jane

THA(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

I got this book because I was doing research into the Cleveland Street scandal so most of it is incidental to my purpose but interesting nevertheless. Eddie, who was suspected of involvement in this, was ‘a delicate child, quiet, apathetic and a slow developer.’ Supposedly, he ‘dawdled’ when dressing in the morning, was ‘a good boy at heart’ and reminded his father (who kept his portrait over his bed after he died) of his own younger self.

Where the author mentions homosexuality, she either dismisses it or moralises about it.

It is well-researched, with 99 pages of footnotes.

King Edward the VII, affectionately called Bertie, was fifty-nine when he took the throne in 1901, upon the death of his mother Queen Victoria. To everyone’s great surprise, this playboy prince sobered up and became an extremely effective leader and the founder of England’s modern monarchy.

Then again, his mother had become such a recluse, in her obsessive mourning for Albert, that anything could have been an improvement.

 You’ve heard of ‘Edward the Confessor’. Here’s ‘Edward  the Caresser.’

The royal world into which Prince Albert Edward was born in 1841 was one still scarred by the mad, bad Hanoverians of the 18th century. Their legacy of illegitimate offspring, inherited insanity and vicious familial power struggles haunted both Queen Victoria and her cousin and consort, Prince Albert — a fascinating, domineering figure in Ridley’s telling, who was raised in a decadent minor German court and became obsessed with purifying the palace. Albert invented the phrase and concept of the “the royal family,” grasping presciently the power that the new house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha could hold as a “beacon of bourgeois domesticity” rather than as a byword for debauchery.

Unfortunately for his children, this meant a stringent policing of behaviour and a rigorous program of private education, under which Bertie — who never willingly read a book — stumbled and suffered. His bride, the Danish princess Alexandra, known as Alix, was chosen for him before he was 20 in a match masterminded by his older sister Vicky, newly married to the future German Emperor Frederick III. Theirs was still a Europe governed by dynastic alliances and insistent upon the (outward) sexual purity of royal children at the time of marriage. Although Bertie protested that he was too young, his parents made haste, knowing that the pretense that the union was “a love match” rather than an arranged, political marriage “depended upon keeping him in a state of pent-up sexual frustration so that he fell madly in love at first sight.”

One can’t help feeling sorry for ‘Bertie’. Thick and lazy he may have been but to have his mother breathing down his neck like that.

And one can feel sorry for royalty as a whole, trapped in a life of duty in the public gaze that they didn’t ask for but which is merely an accident of birth.

Victoria didn’t like to confuse monarchy with religion – didn’t she know she was supreme governor of the established church?

Bertie was one of the few of the aristocracy not to be anti-semitic.

I didn’t realise that many customs emanate from him, e.g. leaving a waistcoat’s bottom undone was his practice after putting on weight.  So too rolling up trouser legs. Group photos started at Sandringham.

And very few readers will have known what Catherine of Aragon’s closet is. I was lucky to have a guided tour.

I had to look up ‘camarilla’ = a group of courtiers or favourites who surround a king or ruler. Usually, they do not hold any office or have any official authority at the royal court but influence their ruler behind the scenes.

And find out who Dorothy Hodgkin was = advanced the technique of X-ray.


Exiles from the imperial court were royally entertained at Marlbor­ough House. Among them was Blanche, the half-American Duchess of Caracciolo, who scandalized London society that winter, going out shooting in a kilt and smoking cigarettes. Her ailing husband was cru­elly teased by a prankster who dressed up as a doctor and told him he was dying, while his valet disguised himself as a priest and heard his last confession. Soon the duchess was pregnant, and she gave birth to a daughter named Alberta Olga, in honor of Bertie, who was the ba­by’s godfather and rumored—probably falsely—to be her father, too.

For a man as sexually rampant as Bertie, a celibate marriage might seem a cruel mockery. But, as the dean perceived, Bertie was “deeply attached to the Princess, despite all the flattering distractions that beset him in society”; he genuinely wanted to “be more careful about her.” At first, the death of their baby son strengthened the marriage. “What my angelic blessed Bertie was to me all this time no words can de­scribe, a true angel!” wrote Alix. “If anything could have bound us closer together, it is this, our first great sorrow.”

Ever since the Mordaunt case, the rad­ical Reynolds’s Newspaper had voiced a strident republicanism. The paper was the publication of G. W. M. Reynolds, an ex-Chartist dedicated to fighting the class war and exposing royalty as an undeserving burden on the taxpayer. It cruelly recorded the death of the baby Prince John thus:

We have much satisfaction in announcing that the newly born child of the Prince and Princess of Wales died shortly after its birth, thus relieving the working men of England from having to support hereafter another addition to the long roll of State beggars they at present maintain.

“Many of the women with whom he began relationships …refused to go quietly. Blackmail, pregnancy, even a court case were to return to haunt him. There was no such thing as a relationship without consequences.”

“King Edward, who “smoke cigars, was addicted to and entente cordials, married a Sea King’s daughter and invented appendicitis,” pursued a policy of peace that “was very successful and culminated in the Great War to End War.”
“which his Holiness recently received me in Rome.” Wyndham noticed”

“A 1970 survey of dreams about Queen Elizabeth II found that people continued to dream about Queen Victoria seventy years after her death, so deeply was her narrative encrypted in the subconscious of the British people. (Brian Masters, Dreams About the Queen, Blond and Briggs, 1972, pp. 83–84.)”

“Money and sexual scandal have been the twin demons of the monarchy since the 20th century….as Bertie’s successors were to discover, projecting monarchy as a ‘family firm” placed an unreasonable pressure on its members to lead exemplary lives.”

The chain-smoking Eddy was aimless and lackadaisical and distress­ingly prone to put his foot in it. He was remarkably sweet-natured, however, and Alix’s favorite. Bertie, though, was infuriated, and teased him for his dandified clothes and the tall “masher” collars he wore to hide his abnormally long neck (“Eddy-Collar-and-Cuffs”). To stiffen his son and keep him out of trouble, he resolved to send Eddy on a six-month tour of India.

Bertie had a meeting with his equerry Lord Arthur Somerset, the superintendent of his stables, and instructed him to see that Eddy was properly equipped with saddlery for his Indian tour, arranging for him to meet the prince on 30 September 1889. At the last minute, Somer­set wired to excuse himself from the meeting, as he was obliged to leave “on urgent private affairs” for Dieppe.

Lord Arthur Somerset was the third son of the Duke of Beaufort. Known as “Podge,” he was a major in the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues), a tall bachelor with luxuriant ginger facial hair. “He was in­clined to fat; his small eyes were on the watch.” No one would have guessed that he was in the habit of visiting a homosexual brothel on Cleveland Street. Podge’s vice had come to the attention of the au­thorities in July 1889, when a postboy apprehended for theft had been found with the princely sum of eighteen shillings in his pocket. Ques­tioned by police, the boy confessed that he and two others had re­ceived the money as payment for “indecent acts” with men at number 19, Cleveland Street, near Fitzroy Square. Under Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, “gross indecency” between two men, whether public or private, was a criminal offense. Policemen kept watch on the house in Cleveland Street and spotted Lord Arthur, who was identified by the postboys and then interviewed by detectives.

Podge waited uneasily during the summer, as the case against two men who had procured the boys came to court. He attempted to bribe a young male prostitute, a waiter from the Marlborough Club, but this led him straight into a police trap. By the end of September, the case against him was complete, but the government hesitated to issue a warrant. A homosexual scandal at Marlborough House was the last thisig Lord Salisbury wanted.

Lord Arthur Somerset’s movements and conversations are docu­mented in the letters he wrote to his friend Reginald (Regy) Brett, later

Lord Esher, a married man and closet homosexual. Brett preserved these letters and bound them into a volume he entitled “The Case of Lord Arthur Somerset.” This forms one of the chief sources for the tangled events that ensued.

In London on 5 October, Lord Arthur saw his commanding officer, Oliver Montagu. They agreed that the prince must be told, and Podge wrote a letter confessing his sins. Montagu undertook to go to Fre­densborg, where Bertie was on holiday with Alix’s extended family, to see the prince, “so as he may hear the right story first.”

“I don’t believe it,” Bertie told Dighton Probyn, the eccentrically bearded comptroller and treasurer of his household. “I won’t believe it any more than if they had accused the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

From Fredensborg, Bertie ordered Probyn in London to clear up Lord Arthur’s case. “Go and see Monro [the police commissioner], go to the Treasury, see Lord Salisbury if necessary.”81 On the evening of 18 October, Probyn saw Lord Salisbury for a few minutes on King’s Cross station before he caught the 7:30 train home to Hatfield. On the same night, Lord Arthur Somerset fled the country.

Later, in the House of Commons debate on 28 February 1890, Salis­bury was accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The case against him turned on the fact that Arthur Somerset escaped to France on the same night as the King’s Cross meeting. Salisbury denied the charge, but doubts have always lin­gered. Might Probyn have hurried around to the Marlborough Club, where Somerset was staying, and tipped him off? Salisbury’s biogra­pher considers that the prime minister felt justified in warning Somer­set, out of a sense of class loyalty to his father the Duke of Beaufort.”

Bertie wrote to the PM to say how glad he was to learn that “no warrant is likely to be issued against the ‘unfortunate Lunatic’ (I can call him nothing else) as, for the sake of the Family and Society, the less one hears of such a filthy scandal the better.”85 On 12 November, how­ever, the warrant was issued at last, charging Lord Arthur Somerset with “gross indecency” with other male persons contrary to the Crim­inal Law Amendment Act. By then, he was living in a villa in Monaco. He never returned to face charges.

Lord Arthur Somerset always maintained that his refusal to stand trial was more than a mere matter of saving his own skin. His real rea­son he explained in the letters he wrote from abroad to Brett. These documents reveal a sensational story: that Arthur Somerset was a scapegoat who went into exile in order to shield the name of Prince Eddy, who had also visited the Cleveland Street brothel.

Soon the rumors about Eddy’s involvement in the scandal were cir­culating in London, and an article in The New York Times (10 November 1889) actually mentioned him by name. This caused a “great pother” in the Prince of Wales’s household, and when Bertie returned to Lon­don in mid-November, Marlborough House swung into action to sup­press the gossip. Oliver Montagu implored Lord Arthur Sotherset to return and stand trial in order to clear Prince Eddy’s name.86 Somerset refused. Nor did he make any attempt to protest the prince’s inno­cence. He explained his predicament in a letter to Brett:

I cannot see what good I could do P[rin]ce E[ddy] if I went into court. I might do harm because if I was asked if I had ever heard anything against him—whom from?—was any person men­tioned with whom he went there etc?—the questions would be very awkward. I have never mentioned the boy’s name except to Probyn, Montagu and Knollys when they were acting for me and I thought they ought to know. Had they been wise, hearing what I knew and therefore what others knew, they ought to have hushed the matter up, instead of stirring it up, as they did, with all the authorities. I have never . . . ever told any one with whom P[rin]ce E[ddy] was supposed to have gone there. I did not think it fair as I could not prove it & it must have been his ruin. I can quite understand the P[rince] of W[ales] being much annoyed at his son’s name being coupled with this thing but . . . it had no more to do with me than the fact that we (that is P[rin]ce and I) must both perform bodily functions which we cannot do for each other. . . . If I went into Court and told all I know no one who called himself a man would ever speak to me again. Hence my infernal position.

Bertie was furious with Arthur Somerset. He wrote to Carrington on 2 January 1890: “I hardly like to allude any more to the subject of AS as it is really a too painful one to write about—and his subsequent conduct makes me wish that he had never existed.”

It’s possible, as one account suggests, that the rumors about Eddy visiting the Cleveland Street brothel caused such consternation to Marlborough House “not because they were false but because they were true.” An alternative scenario suggests that the rumors about Eddy and Cleveland Street were slanders that were deliberately spread and embroidered by Lord Arthur Somerset. In his letter to Brett, quoted above, Somerset concedes that he cannot prove the rumors about Eddy visiting Cleveland Street. After his ignominious flight, he needed to vindicate himself and show he was a man of honor. What better way than to claim that he had voluntarily gone into exile in a chivalrous bid to throw his cloak over the young prince?

Whether or not Prince Eddy did, in fact, frequent Cleveland Street—or whether he was gay or, more likely, bisexual—is perhaps not the issue. The real point is that Eddy had become the story, and that made him a liability.

Lord Arthur Somerset was exceptionally well placed to damage Eddy because of his family connections. His sister, Blanche, with whom he kept in close contact throughout the drama, was married to the Marquess of Waterford, older brother of Lord Charles Beresford. In his attempt to damp down the scandal, Oliver Montagu wrote to Blanche Waterford complaining that some female members of her family had been “insinuating things about Prince Eddy.” The woman he had in mind was her sister-in-law: Mina Beresford. Mina had given Daisy Brooke’s incriminating letter to Lord Waterford for safekeeping. She must have known about the Lord Arthur Somerset/Eddy story, and she had every motive to spread damaging rumors. The Cleveland Street scandal was intimately linked to the Beresford affair. Both were fueled by the fury of Mina Beresford.

No doubt Bertie was unaware, but Archbishop Benson was an unfortunate example to choose; his wife, Mary Benson, was a lesbian, and his three sons were homosexuals.

Knollys was accused of leaking against Salisbury. During the debate on 28 February 1890, the Liberal MP Henry Labouchere, the editor of Truth, was challenged to supply the name of his informant for the allegation that Salis­bury had tipped off Probyn about the warrant for Lord Arthur Somerset’s arrest. He theatrically wrote a name on a piece of paper, and then tore it up into tiny pieces. Afterward, an MP picked up the pieces, and revealed that the name was Sir Francis Knollys. This prompted Knollys to give an explanation to the PM in an interview with Schomberg McDonnell. According to Mc­Donnell’s memo, Knollys admitted that he had seen Labouchere in Novem­ber, but claimed he had told him only one thing: that Lord Arthur had fled on the same day as the King’s Cross meeting. “Sir Francis Knollys assures me that with the exception of the above remark he said literally nothing,” noted McDonnell.

A memo by Schomberg McDonnell, Salisbury’s pri­vate secretary, appears to vindicate Salisbury. It records an interview with a certain General Marshall, who claimed to have been alerted by Colonel Pear­son, the assistant commissioner of police, about the damning evidence against Lord Arthur Somerset. Marshall told Pearson to warn Probyn. This memo is minuted by Salisbury in red ink: “If General Marshall’s impression is accurate Probyn played me an ugly trick for he did his best to make me as­sent to a letter which would have implied that he had obtained his informa­tion from my conversation. He told me that he had no communication with Somerset for several weeks before the flight.”

Bertie had at last concluded that Eddy’s army career was “simply a waste of time.” Eddy was worryingly lacking in energy and self-esteem. Carrington watched him visit Wycombe and make a speech: “When he sat down he turned round and said to me, ‘I have made a rare ass of myself.’ It is pathetic to see how little confidence he has in himself.” Bertie suggested three alternatives. Plan number one was to send Eddy on a long sea voyage to the colonies, out of reach of temptation. Queen Victoria put her foot down. Eddy, she said, had been “dosed” with the Colonies. She urged Bertie’s option two: a Eu­ropean tour.

He has been . . . nowhere but to Denmark in Europe. He is only able to speak French badly and German equally so. He has never, like every other Prince . . . been in contact with any other court but Berlin or seen fine works of Art . . . [He ought] not merely go to young colonies, with no history, no art and nothing but middle class English speaking people . . . If the Prince of Wales is afraid of his making a mesalliance which the Queen is not afraid of, Australia, Canada etc. would be worse in its dangers in this respect.

Bertie, however, was concerned not with Eddy’s education, or lack of it, but with his dissipated behavior, a subject he dared not mention to his mother, as Knollys explained in a note to Salisbury: “Unfortu­nately [the Queen’s] views on certain social subjects are so strong that the Prince of Wales does not like to tell her the real reasons for sending Prince Eddy away, which is intended as a punishment and as a means of keeping him out of harm’s way, and I am afraid that neither of these objects will be attained by his simply travelling about Europe.”

Bertie’s third option was a surprise: to marry Eddy off to Princess May of Teck. Princess May was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s first cousin Mary, the Duchess of Teck, known to many as Fat Mary. The Duke of Teck was the son of Duke Alexander of Wurttemberg, who made a morganatic marriage to a Hungarian countess. The blight of “commoner’s” blood meant that, instead of succeeding to the throne of Wurttemberg, the Duke of Teck was reduced to “vegetating incon­spicuously in England, pruning roses.” Incapable of living within their means, the Tecks ran up large debts; they were pursued by their creditors, and, after the humiliation of auctioning their possessions in 1883, spent two years in exile in Florence.

Perhaps Bertie knew too much about Rosebery. In August 1893, at Homburg, he had helped to rescue him from the mad Marquess of Queensberry. The homophobic marquess, who was the father of Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), the lover of Oscar Wilde, was convinced that his eldest son, Lord Drumlanrig, private secretary to Rosebery, was having a homosexual affair with Rosebery. He arrived in Homburg de­termined to “out” “that boy pimp and boy lover Rosebery.” He was met by the police and interviewed by the Prince of Wales, who told him, “We are quiet people at Homburg and don’t like disturbance.” The scandal took another turn in October 1894, when Drumlanrig was found dead during a shoot. The official verdict was accidental death, but dark rumors circulated of suicide and homosexual cover-up, and Rosebery lived in terror that the vicious marquess would denounce him.

When Rosebery offered himself as a suitor for Princess Victoria, he was sharply rebuffed by Alix. Toria, as she was known, was intelligent—not as pretty as Maud, but very “light in hand” according to Car­rington. Years later, as an old lady, Anita Leslie recalled Toria reflecting that “there had been someone perfect for her but they would no’t let her marry him—And we could have been so happy— The man, Anita later discovered, was Rosebery.65 At the time, the millionaire widower prime minister seemed far from ideal. Not only did his involvement in politics rule him out,66 but he was nineteen years older than Toria, painfully insomniac, and dogged by damaging rumors of homosexual­ity. And the fact was that Alix did not want her daughters to marry.

Daisy’s son was born on 21 March 1898. The child was christened with only one name, Maynard, which was Daisy’s maiden name, and the godfathers were Cecil Rhodes and Lord Rosebery, both sexually ambivalent men rumored to be homosexuals. The child was passed off as Lord Warwick’s, but plenty of clues pointed to another father of this baby born after a gap of thirteen years. Bertie’s name was some­times mentioned, and the “D” symbol does indeed cluster around the Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, when the baby was presumably con­ceived. Bertie took an interest in the “Diamond Jubilee” baby, as he called it in the letters he wrote to Daisy, but this need not imply pater­nity. Daisy herself was in no doubt that the father was Joe Laycock.” Having a child by another man was the exit route that Lillie Langtry had chosen from her relationship with the prince, and in Daisy’s case, as with Lillie, Bertie behaved generously, showing no sexual jealousy. Daisy by now had three children by three different men. No wonder that she made a virtue of sexual freedom, telling Lord Rosebery, who she fruitlessly pursued, that “Far too much fuss, in my opinion, is ma by women about personal morality which, after all, is entirely a ma for the individual.” Of the damage done to her children or other people’s marriages, Daisy seemed unaware.

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The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale – Gerard Reve

TEGerard Reve (1923-2006) is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors, and was also the first openly gay writer in the country’s history. His 1947 debut The Evenings was chosen as one of the nation’s 10 favourite books by readers of a leading Dutch newspaper while the Society of Dutch Literature ranked it as the Netherlands’ best novel of all time. It’s been dubbed ‘one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written’

Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. There is a lack of much to do after the War. Meeting friends, going to the cinema and dancing are the only options, if you have enough money. Otherwise there is sitting at home and listening to the radio. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

Some of our group found it quite boring –  but that’s the point! How do you write a book about boredom that isn’t boring? It was a page-turner because people wanted to see if the protagonist did something daring, like kill someone. Was his adolescence (he’s annoyed with and rude to his parents) delayed by war and occupation? Is the obsession with food a result of previous starvation and rationing?

It’s well-written. The descriptions of the weather are vivid. One person found it quite hypnotic.

Is his teasing s form of flirtation?

That the gay author is the same age as the protagonist and this being his first book, is there a suppressed gay element? For example., the bar upstairs where you have to ring a bell to get in – one assumes it is a casino but there’s dancing but only two women. Is it a clandestine gay bar?

He is obsessed with baldness.

Although not a churchgoer, he knows and quotes his bible.

The cover and feel of the book are pleasing.

All in all, people were pleased that they’d read it though one gave up half way through.

Maybe he should join a book group!


“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

This afternoon is perhaps worse than others,” he thought. “I have four hours to go till evening.”

“It is,” he thought, “only a quarter to three, but still this day will fill itself like any other.”

“If no one else says anything,” he thought, “I have no choice but to keep talking.”

“I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is all”

“‘All is lost,’” he thought, ‘everything is ruined. It’s ten past three.’”

“will be a day well spent.   This will be no wasted and profitless Sunday.”

Oh but you are becoming quite bald,” he tells one man. Listen Joop, without meaning to be nasty your scalp is really almost bare. It will not be long before you can count your hairs on the fingers of one hand… Do you count the hairs in your comb each morning? If you did you would see that there are more of them each day. Slowly but surely. I would be horrified to know that I was going bald. I would lose all desire to live. But please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to discourage you.

A loss,” he mumbled softly, “a dead loss.  How can it be?  A day squandered in its entirety.  Hallelujah.

A pity that I have to leave.”  “But where are you going?” his mother asked.  “Well,” he said, “we shall see.”  “So you don’t know where you’re going yet?” she asked, “but you say that you have to leave.”  “The one does not necessarily rule out the other,” Frits said.  “One may need to leave without having to go anywhere.  Those are the cases in which one must go away from somewhere.”  “Stay and have a nice cup of tea,” she said.

“What is the weather like?”  his mother asked.  “Normal,” Frits said, “not so very cold.  “When it’s cold like this,” she said, “I don’t much feel like leaving the house; father and I were planning to go out this evening to Annetje in Haarlem.”  “That’s true,” Frits said, “you told me this morning.”  “What’s it like outside now?” she asked, “is the wind very cold?”  “It’s blowing, but it’s not a cold wind,” Frits said.  “But what do you call cold?” she asked, “is it that humid cold?”  The air is moist,” Frits said, “but the wind is actually quite sultry.”
“Let’s go anyway,” his father said.

“‘The empty hours,’ he murmured, turning away”

“‘I just sit here and don’t do anything,’ he thought”.

Gritting his teeth he watched as the man speared three potatoes from the platter with his own fork. “That is unclean,” he thought, “a violation of every precept. But we stand powerless.”

I’m only waiting for them to hang themselves or beat each other to death. Or set the house on fire. For God’s sake, let it be that. So why hasn’t it happened yet ? But let us not despair. All things come to those who wait.

“The devil take me,” said Frits, “it is a delight to me each and every time. Those reports like: child killed by exploding grenade. Glorious. Deferred suffering from the war. That is always a joy. They always start of so cosily, those reports,” “the seven-year-old son,” he said in an impassive voice, “of the Karels family, agriculturalists in Breda, attempted on Wednesday afternoon to dismantle a small anti-aircraft shell with a claw hammer.”

“What an evening,” he thought, “what an evening. When is it going to end ?”

“There is no going back,” Frits thought. “Let us adopt an impassive or, if need be, even cheerful expression.”

Things take place around us. Yet we barely notice them. We have ears, but we hear not, eyes but do not see.

“I just wish I could figure out when you’re being serious”.

“‘Don’t pay him any mind,’ his father said, ‘he’s only blathering'”.

“‘And now the moment for tears has arrived,’ he thought. His eyes grew moist.” — breaking the hard shell of indifference he tries to maintain

“All in all, it is dreary,” he thought, “most dreary.”

“It is no disaster to be unhappy,” Frits thought, “but how discouraging must it be to know that there is nothing to pin the blame on, outside oneself ?”

“Help us, O eternal one, our God. See us in our distress. From the depths we call to you. Hideous.””

“Deliver me from baldness,” he said, pushing back his hair and examining the hairline. “It is a gruesome infliction.”

The Year is no more, I am alive, I breathe, and I move, so I live… whatever ordeals are yet to come, I am alive.

‘I just sit here and sit here and don’t do a thing,’ he thought. ‘The day’s half over.’ It was a quarter past twelve.

‘Why do I think that way?’ he thought then. ‘What right do I have to be so blasé?’

‘This day was empty,’ Frits thought, ‘I realize that.’

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Lust (or No Harm Done) – Geoff Ryman

(lt2Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The ultimate fantasy? Or a nightmare of self-discovery? Michael Blasco, a young scientist investigating what happens to the brain during the process of learning, suddenly finds himself on the other end of experimentation. On the way home from his lab one night he runs into Tony, a fitness instructor from his gym who he harbors a crush for, on the same platform waiting for the subway. When Michael imagines Tony naked, a pleasant fantasy to spice up a dull journey home, an extraordinary thing happens: Tony strips then and there on the platform and offers himself to Michael in front of all onlookers. Horrified, Michael flees. But back at his apartment, Tony reappears, as if by magic. And disappears again, when Michael wishes him away. Being a scientist, Michael recognizes an experiment when he sees one, and sets out to test the parameters of his newfound gift. In quick succession he conjures up Billie Holliday, Johnny Weismuller, Daffy Duck, Picasso, Sophia Loren, even his younger self.

The world is seemingly there for the taking. But what does Michael really desire? Mad with lust and losing all scientific objectivity, he runs the gamut of his fantasies inventing new lovers and calling up old ones, until, sated and morally bankrupt, he’s forced to confront himself. What happens to the heart when it gets everything it desires?

But when he screws his father – is hat a sort of cross with oedipal complex and ther myth that gays have weak or absent fathers?

lt Quotations:

Then he got up and looked at the curriculum covered by the SAT test, and made a list of American textbooks and thought of joining summer school. And after that there would be nothing to do except loll on the beach all day dreaming of his father. And he would go to the camp, and see his father in the nude, and run with his father and dream with -his father of the life they both wanted to build together.

Driven mad by the imperatives of love, Michael became sure his father wanted the same thing.

As they started the run, Dad slapped Michael’s butt. He looked at Michael in the shower and said, ‘Man, what do you call that thing? Is that a dick? It looks like it belongs on a horse, man!’ His father walked on the pier with an arm on Michael’s shoulder. He hugged him as they watched television.


You don’t want someone real, you don’t want someone made up. Well, love, there’s nothing in between.

So what do you want, Michael?

Love. Again, that’s what I want. Love.

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The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys by Jeremy Reed

td(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

On the fringes of Soho, Piccadilly has long been London’s principal location for the illicit sale of sex, and Jeremy Reed explores the history of rent boys from Oscar Wilde’s notorious attraction to the place to the painter Francis Bacon’s predilection for rough trade. The book includes tales of Soho’s clandestine gay clubs from the days when homosexuality was illegal, the punters inexorably drawn to the area, the development of the secret slang known as Polari or Palare, (though I’m not sue he’s right on this as it was used at London’s docks in the 18th Century and some trace it back to the 16th Century) as well as the Dilly’s influence on pop stars from the Rolling Stones to Morrissey. The author examines the careers of a number of former male prostitutes who worked the infamous ‘Meat Rack’ and investigates what drew them to risk their lives. His study includes a chapter recording his friendship with Francis Bacon and concludes with an account of the demise of the Dilly trade, when male escorts booked online supplanted the boys hanging out on the neon-lit railings.

Because prostitution was illegal, these boys mixed with the criminal underworld – like drugs, I wonder of the answer is legalisation.

It the last chapter an add-on? The book ends logically with the previous chapter.

The role of the church is noted – Fr. Ken Leech set up Centrepoint for drug rehab. when he was at St. Anne’s Soho.

The infamous ‘Bishop of Mecdway; makes his appearance. He came to fame on a TV documentary about runaways called ‘Johnny Comw Home’ where he picked up boys from Kings Cross and settled them in homes which were really brothels. He got authority funding because nobody checked his bogus credentials.


Jack Saul and his associates at the Dilly adapted Circus slang or Palare into their coded vocabularies, with male prostitutes being called pejoratively ‘Mary-Ann’, ‘pouf’, ‘fairy’, ‘tante’, `tapette’, all terms known to Wilde and his milieu as family. A criminal slang vocabulary, known at the time as Parlyaree’, as the prototype for the secret gay slang Polari that coloured the repressive 1950s and 1960s, as a form of verbal drag in which language is camped, was already in circulation, with some of its insolently spiked additives picked up from the nearby Alhambra Music Hall at No. 23-27 on the east side of Leicester Square that was used as a pick-up place by both male and female prostitutes.

According to Warth, the semiotics of Polari and offended by the exclusively the Masonic lingo, ‘Homosexuals have their own private language, constantly changing as some of their expressions go into common usage. They recognize each other by the phrases they use. Makeup which they sometimes wear, is “slap”. Putting on women’s clothes is “dragging up”. A man who they recognize as unsympathetic to them and likely to scoff at their mincing ways, is a “send-up”. Anyone strutting and posturing, as they do, is “very camp”.’

Alex recalls elements of the hustler’s lingo he used at the Dilly, such as ‘vice-boy cigarettes’ for marijuana smoked before sex, and drugs sold at the station, ‘ups and downs’ for amphetamines and valium, `two-for-one’ for heroin and, if he was on, he’d be hiding his ‘bee bites’, or if he was out to rob he’d be ‘working the fags’. He recollects other terms such as `goofer’ for a punter in his forties, an ‘ice palace’ for a client’s affluent home, ‘incendiary blond’ for a faggot; a whole vernacular of quirkily inventive and quickly deleted terms used as argot by Dilly boys in the 1970s.

That Polari had been introduced by Dilly boys into oho clubs was observed by Ken Leech who noted, In the world of the coffee clubs there is a culture with its own language and words like `bona” (good), “vada” (to look), “nishta” and “nanty” (no) are used extravagantly. The homosexual language is called Polari and should be.

distinguished from camp language, which is more widely used and less restricted.’

On the run, and pathologically motivated by one of his wallet-grabbing forays to the Dilly, Scanlon tracked a company director to the station toilets, came on to him sexually in a cubicle and snatched his stashed wallet. Ramming the man up against the wooden door Scanlon coolly rummaging through his wallet discovered the man’s identity and details including his address and threatened to tell his wife unless the director paid him k800. Scanlon, after stealing the panicked and traumatized victim’s credit card, walked the man to his bank to cash a cheque for the amount demanded.

Two years later he was accidentally recognized as wanted by Detective Colin Johnson who was on undercover duty at the Regent Palace Hotel bar, a venue consistently popular with rent boys on account of its location, clearly putting the frighteners on a visibly distressed and grey-suited businessman. When the two men disappeared into the hotel, Johnson organized an immediate search to find the room they had taken for an assignation and arrested Scanlon, who had in the meantime demanded k30o from his unsuspecting victim. Arrested and tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to ten years. Judge Michael Argyle, repulsed by Scanlon’s intimidating methods o±

extortion and systematic menacing of wealthy homosexuals said in his reprimanding summary, ‘These are loathsome offences. Today is your paying-up day.’ As a marker of insidious Dilly machinations Scanlon’s case epitomized gay criminality — a sexually confused, indisputably disruptive sensibility using his self-loathing in part to victimize the compromised and the vulnerable through extortion. Gays subverting  othe r other same-sex types were an invasive Dilly rogue gene, mercenary twisted, often aggressively homophobic and far more injuriously dangerous than stereotypical queer-bashers.

Wheeler strips down thee romantic illusion that being a Dilly boy was a sexual gateway-maaking easy money for doing nothing but hang out looking availar

For punters sometimes deny they made a deal with you, or don’t pay you. What can a rent boy do in this situation? Say you’re under age and go to the police? Who is the police more likely to believe, a middle-class businessman, which most punters are, or an eighteen-year-old gay prostitute? Boys get raped, gang-banged and beaten up . . . And what about the queer-bashers pretending to be gay and punters who take you round the corner where you are expected to give a blowjob and he’s got three of his friends waiting to give you a going over?

This brutally realistic, take-no-prisoners confession of the unavoidable flip-side to being Dilly rent quite rightly argues a case for the punter controlling trade, often through class and privilege, and in effect being vindicated by the police if a dispute should arise over a deal reneged on by refusing to pay. Rent boys as socially despised outlaws were unable to appeal to the police if they were abused by punters because their profession was illegal, and, of course, the punter knew it and used it to his advantage. We come back to the time-tested criterion that no one likes having to pay for sex, because of the implicit psychological admission that he can’t find a partner or is in some way cheating or living a double life, is physically unattractive or, hardest of all in the gay world, growing older.

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The Garden God – a Tale of Two Boys – Forrest Reid

TGG(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Fifteen year old Graham Iddesleigh dreams of a past life, where he frolicked in a garden with a young Greek god. However, his dreams threaten to come to an abrupt end when his father decides to send him away to school. But what is Graham’s surprise when he meets a fellow schoolboy, Harold Brocklehurst, who is the very image of the Greek god of his dreams!

Graham falls deeply in love with his new friend, and the two boys spend an unforgettable summer together — until a heartbreaking tragedy occurs, a tragedy that will change Graham’s life forever.

The Garden God was first published in 1905, in the wake of the Oscar Wilde trial and other scandals, and risked controversy with its undercurrents of pederastic desire.

This novel risked controversy with its portrayal of romantic friendship between two boys; Reid dedicated it to his literary idol Henry James, who was outraged and never spoke to Reid again.

Reid’s father; Robert Reid died when the boy was only five or six years old. Maybe this influenced a very brief part of this novel about the relationship of the boy with his loving father. He was at times lonely and, just like Reid, was searching for a companion.

Reid’s loneliness when he is not so fortunate to be with a companion in reality is not that devastating for he has ways of being with the playmate of his dreams in his dreams. He was always capable of creating his love in his mind and dreaming of him, playing with him and experiencing true feelings with him in his dreams where light would shine “but even now he had only to close his eyes to bring up the light-the light….”

The obtaining of a friendship and the loss of it, affections, feelings, dreams, wishes and imaginations are explored.  A chance encounter, a familiar face, desired emotions, closeness and passion, joy and adventure, longing and belonging, attachment, loss and devastation are what the characters go through. Their experiences, emotions, thoughts and feelings are described beautifully and deeply by Forrest Reid. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Reid’s written words. Reid is able to make a very simple story, gripping, very normal events, dramatic and the emotions profound and intense which makes it impossible for the reader not to sympathize, feel with the characters, sense their suffering and grieve their loss.

To Forrest Reid, friendship is simply trust and being able to be comfortable and natural with your friend. Reid who had spent a, more or less, lonely life, who faced difficulty finding that someone who would share his private world and merge his dreams with his reality longed to find a companion who would take him out of his loneliness and put an end to his singular secret world “My life, from as far back as I can remember, was never lived holly in the open. I mean that it had its private side, that there were things I saw, felt, heard, and kept to myself. There were thoughts I kept to myself, too; and above all dreams.”

Reid and his characters found extreme pleasure and happiness just by being in the company of their loved ones “To feel his companion close beside him, and to be alone with him like this, gave Graham an exquisite pleasure.”

TGG 2Quotations:

“dear Allingham” in a rather polite, apologetic yet confident tone for like he said “I have not in the least fulfilled my duties as a good citizen. Doubtless I am not a good citizen. Doubtless, as you kindly hint, I ought to have married; but I suppose even you will admit that it is now too late-too late for me to think of following your excellent example. I cannot, alas! Even pretend that I want to follow it, want to forsake my wilderness.”

“But there had been many things that had given him pleasure. On the whole he had been happy-happy after his fashion: and he had known, had felt, the most beautiful thing of all, ‘the ecstasy and sorrow of love….’”

“But instead of answering he sat quite still, gazing fixedly at the stranger, his colour gradually deepening. Fascinated, spell bound, his lips parted, his eyes opened wide, he hardly dared to move lest the vision should vanish.”

“‘And I have something to do with it?’

‘Oh yes; everything’-he spoke quietly, simply. ‘You were always there, you know. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. You have been meeting me there for years!’”

“Doubtless when he had first gone to school he had also been alone-but the difference, the difference now would be incalculable. There were days, in truth, when it almost seemed to him that it would have been better if he had never been given his happiness, since so soon it was to be snatched from him; and even though deep in his heart he knew he would not forget it if he could, there were days when he thought it would be well if all the past could be effaced from his mind, rubbed out as figures are rubbed from a child’s slate.”

“The visible world!-was it not almost sentient? From the trees and the sky, from the restless sea and the wind had emerged, at any rate, that imaginary playmate who had made his life beautiful; the messenger of Eros; the fair boy who had come to him from his strange garden, his meadow of asphodel.”

“‘One of the signs of a real friendship is not to be afraid to speak openly to your friend of all that concerns both him and you.’”

“I am only trying to remember a dream-a dream I have had so often.”

“And his life?-that too, perhaps, had taken a grayish tinge…. Monotonous? … ah yes, monotonous in truth: but even now he had only to close his eyes to bring up the light-the light….”

had the past five years over again.” (Reid Apostate 218) while he realized that it is inevitable “He walked over to the window and looked out into the breaking day. The world seemed very old and cheerless. Was it the chill of approaching age in his own blood, he wondered, that made him find it so! He smiled a strange, dim little smile. Best, then, to set by the fire and doze! He came back to the table, and leaning over it, buried his face in his hands.”

“the old playmate of his dreams had ceased to visit him, that he could no longer even call up very clearly his image, remember what he was like. It was as if the change had come into his everyday world had extended on into the dusky ways of sleep, and though he did not dwell upon it at all, yet he felt, obscurely, that something that had been had ceased to be, and that there was a blank, a void in his existence, which none of the many new pleasures and interests in his life would ever be able to fill.”

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The Retreat – Forrest Reid

TR 2(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

The Retreat is the second of Reid’s three novels featuring Tom Barber, The Retreat earned universal critical acclaim when first published in 1936.

It begins with a vivid dream about an evil sorcerer and his boy apprentice. The dreamer is Tom Barber, age 13. Llike many intelligent and sensitive children, he moves between the world of everyday life and that of the imagination. “I pretend things, and all at once they become real,” Tom says, and they become real for the reader as well, as we follow him over the course of one summer during which the lines between reality and fantasy are frequently blurred. The book depicts Tom’s fantastic adventures in an unseen world, his attempts to thwart the malign influence of the cat Henry, whom he has observed scratching cabbalistic symbols on the gravel path; his meetings with the beautiful boy-angel Gamelyn; his conversations with animals and his experiences in the Garden of Eden.

TRThe book’s title came from a poem of Henry Vaughan

Happy those early days! when I

Shined in my angel infancy.

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race,

Or taught my soul to fancy aught

But a white, celestial thought;

When yet I had not walked above

A mile or two from my first love,

And looking back, at that short space,

Could see a glimpse of His bright face;

When on some gilded cloud or flower

My gazing soul would dwell an hour,

And in those weaker glories spy

Some shadows of eternity;

Before I taught my tongue to wound

My conscience with a sinful sound,

Or had the black art to dispense

A several sin to every sense,

But felt through all this fleshly dress

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

O, how I long to travel back,

And tread again that ancient track!

That I might once more reach that plain

Where first I left my glorious train,

From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees

That shady city of palm trees.

But, ah! my soul with too much stay

Is drunk, and staggers in the way.

Some men a forward motion love;

But I by backward steps would move,

And when this dust falls to the urn,

In that state I came, return.

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Uncle Stephen – Forrest Reid

USt(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Forrest Reid (1875- 1947) was an Irish novelist, literary critic and translator. He was, a leading pre-war British novelist of boyhood. He was influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster, who used to visit him but he was repelled by Forster’s Maurice. He has been labelled ‘the first Ulster novelist of European stature’, and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness  and James Joyce’s novel about growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Reid strongly disapproved of homosexual acts (despite his being gay, he was full of self-loathing) and, even more so, of men who ‘interfered with’ boys.

A supernatural novel about Tom Barber, an orphaned boy in search of the mysterious uncle he has never met, and about whom there is a hint of scandal. The story of ‘Uncle Stephen’ came to Reid in a dream, and the dreamlike evocation of the Ulster countryside in which it is set.

It’s the first of a trilogy which goes backwards in time. In this book, Tom is 16.

The uncle is a recluse who is reputed to dabble in black magic.

Unathletic, interested in books and the beauty of nature, Tom is like many a sensitive child in literature (and life).  What sets him apart is that the people he encounters are not the unfeeling ogres of such stories.  Tom Barber is not a radiant spark hidden under a bushel, but a human being, as responsible as anyone else for his difficulty in relating to the mass of humanity.  His interactions with those who can’t understand him ring true, and the range of Reid’s sympathy, like Tom’s, includes many characters lesser writers would dismiss or stereotype.  Uncle Stephen is not primarily a psychological novel, but it deftly captures the complexity of human relationships


Chequered bands of golden fire splashed on the moss-dark sward.  A stilled loveliness breathed its innocent spell.  Then suddenly a hare bounded across the path, and the trilled liquid pipings of hidden thrush and blackbird broke on his ears like the awakening of life.  The music came to him in curves of sound.  All the beauty he loved best had this curving pattern, came to him thus, so that even the rounding of a leaf or the melting line of a young human body impressed itself upon him as a kind of music.  The avenue turned, widened, a house was there.

He could not remember the rest of the story, but he knew everybody had been happy because nobody had asked questions…. The earth might be a kind of heaven!  It wasn’t really impossible.  Happiness depended on kindness and understanding and– and– on not insisting that everybody should have the same feelings and thoughts….

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The Milkman’s on his Way – David Rees

TMOHW(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This was written for gay teens and caused quite a stir when it was published. The controversy led to some councils and local political parties adopting gay-positive policies including commitments to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians and to the Tory government seeking to ban such things..

I was privileged to meet the author once. He’d taught English in a comprehensive and later went on to train teachers in Exeter, so he knows how to write. His literary output, mainly aimed at young people, was prolific.

The stages of Rees’s writing career corresponded with his own personal development. Rees didn’t fully come to terms with his homosexuality until relatively late in life (after marriage and fatherhood). ‘I came out when I was 37 and had my first novel accepted for publication that year. The two things are inextricably bound up together, there’s no doubt about it.’

This novel sold in excess of 25,000 copies and is probably the most successful British gay novel to have appeared from a small, specialist press, helped perhaps by the controversy surrounding it during the passage of Clause into Section 28.

Ewan Macrea is a 14 year old, living by the seaside in Bude. He’s a surfer and is having difficulties dealing with his lack of interest in girls and his growing fascination with his best mate Leslie.

TMOHW 2 Quotations:

Growing up gay, beginning as a teenager, to realize what you are: that’s when you start to suffer. Just when everyone else is becoming involved with the opposite sex, you’re alone in having to hide your feelings. Impossible to talk to anybody. It’s not something you want to blurt out to your parents, obviously. Or to your teachers, Or to the boy you fancy: He’d jeer at you or hit you.The only salvation is to find people like yourself. And that’s a big step. A very big step.

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Becoming Nancy – Terry Ronald

BN2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The late 1970s are captured very well, with the trendy teachers, the Anti Nazi league, Rock Against Racism, Blair Peach, Abba and cheesecloth but there’s still a secondary modern school and an unusual one at that as it has a Sixth Form. The tastes in furniture reminds me of Paul Magr’s ‘Strange Boy.

Boys growing up uncertain about their sexuality had no role models. Larry Grayson, in Crossroads,is emulated by the hero of this book but most young men found him deeply alienating. They couldn’t possibly be ‘one of them’ if they weren’t camp. Interestingly, the hero’s family have no illusions about Grayson being celibate: a notion most of his fans believed so as to not be shocked that they liked someone who did ‘naughty things’.

It’s a bit liker many American coming out stories where the effeminate boy has a girl as his best friend falls for the jock. The boy also has an acid tongue when critiquing the fashion disasters of some of the girls and the women.

There’s a highly unprofessional and unlikely parents’ evening. However, at the time, the trendier teachers did offer cigarettes to `heir pupils – in school.

There’s a husband who insists on eating the same meal on each particular day of the week and hates his routine being altered – like the husband in the film Shirley Valentine. This is the husband who nicks things – the family get a new dishwasher only discover that there are some plates already in there when they plug it in.

There’s a marvellous vignette of tap room conversation: The two of them have been getting right up my nose for the last hour – putting the world to rights, as they saw it: what a marvellous bloody job Mrs Thatcher is doing, and what was the point of women being liberated when they spent most of their free time looking through catalogues at saucepans.

BN I had to look up ‘”kushdi”= cool.

And I think he has confused Melksham (Wiltshire) with Meltham (Yorskhire)

But it was a good read and will have you singing along to the show numbers from Oliver for some time afterwards.

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A Secret Edge – R Reardon

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)ASE

There are lots of coming out stories but this one is different in that a Hindu is involved and the author knows her stiff – that ancient Hinduism accepted a ‘third sex’ but that Western attitudes have infiltrated.

Like most of these American coming out novels, there’s lots about friends coming round to help with homework and with ‘jocks’ on sports teams.

The title is a reference to the idea that fathers somehow suspect their sons are gay but don’t quite know how to deal with it, as if their son has some sort of ‘secret edge’ on them.

I suspect that nobody quite knows how many young men take knives to school for protection.

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