Sweet William

Memories from a troubled childhood

“Tom?’ I asked as Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecelia’, one of my favourites, faded into Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime.
“What’s up, baby brother?’ He called from the top bunk.
I hated it when he called me that and he knew it, which is why he carried on doing it, of course.
“Turn the radio up a bit, I can’t hear it.”
Tom had bought the radio from saved pocket money, and so controlled the volume. The sound level decreased. He could be a real pain in the bum sometimes.
A few minutes later I asked. “What’s a closet?”
“Bloody hell boy. You know what a closet is.”
He turned, and the bunk-beds creaked in protest. We had outgrown the beds but our room was too small to separate them. I had to live with nightmare visions of Tom’s bed collapsing on top of mine and crushing me to death in the process. Some night’s I didn’t sleep very well.
“Yeah, I understand it’s a wardrobe,” I said, “but what does it mean when a bloke comes out of a closet?’
“Oh, I see. It means he’s just told everyone he’s gay. You know-–queer.”
“Why would he do that? Wouldn’t he want to keep it a secret?”
“Yeah, it’s part of this new Gay Rights thing. There’s a load of celebs doing it. You know, militant poofs who want to shout it from the rooftops.”
“Okay. Right.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Nothing. One of the guys at school said it about Elton John and David Bowie.” I should have known he wouldn’t leave it there, but I’ll never learn.
“You seem very interested in the subject. Are you gay, baby brother? I mean, you don’t have a girlfriend, do you? I’d better keep my back against the wall.” He tittered, and the bed protested again.
“No, I mumbled. Don’t have a girlfriend, but I’m not gay.”
“I know, and you don’t have a girlfriend because you’re fat.” He chuckled again.
“You can be a nasty bugger sometimes,” I mumbled.
Tom sneaked out an arm and rapped me on the head with his fist. He called it a ‘gaffer’s knock’. It was another thing I hated. I rubbed the sore spot and wondered whether I’d ever be big enough to thump him back and get away with it.
The radio burst into George Harrison’s “My sweet Lord”.
“Turn it up, Tom, I love this one.”
This time the volume racked up and we sang the song together, but not too loud. According to Tom, the walls in our Council House were paper thin, and the neighbours had the ability to hear a fart in a thunderstorm.
They had ‘Ears like Jodrell Bank’, according to Mum.


Every Sunday morning, Mum and Dad dragged us, kicking and screaming, to church. They’d done so ever since I could remember. We both hated going, but had to put up with the boredom. No choice to it in those days. Mum’s word was law and she had the devout Christian ethic of the true believer. Dad used to go along with her to keep the peace more than anything else.

To be continued…

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